It might be the most popular Windows email application, but Microsoft's Outlook is no stunner. People use it because it seems to be the default as part of the popular Office suite.
In fact, Microsoft Outlook is rather good when you get into its recesses, but as a simple email client for everyday use it has limitations. It takes considerable diligence to organise emails into a form that will make them easy to retrieve for quick reference.
How many times has someone contacted you in the last year, and what was the thread of the email conversations that took place? Outlook has no idea. You can run search, but that just offers a dumb list of emails sent to or from a person, or including a specific search string. Quickly retrieving the train of communication that made up these emails is just one of these things ‘you can't do'.
Xobni (that's ‘inbox' backwards) is a free-to-download add-on that sets out to rescue Outlook users from this dead end. Loading as a tool-strip on the right side of the Outlook screen, its first and simplest function is to act as a fast index of all your emails. Although Outlook 2007/Vista is already better at this than the useless XP Outlook, Xobni is faster still. Why can't Microsoft make Outlook work this swiftly?
The next great thing about Xobni is the way that it displays a variety of information about your relationship with the person who sent it (eg, how often you send/receive from one another), noting the thread of emails over time. This makes it trivial to look back to older emails for reference.
If they sent you any attachments over time, these are also displayed in case you want to open one. Xobni can even extract telephone numbers from text in the email footer.
Xobni is a sort of database of everything that lives inside Outlook, from the contacts themselves to data generated by your relationship with them. Because of this underlying concept, it can analyse the flow of emails, displaying graphs that tell you how many emails you received in a particular month, how long it took you to reply, and the numbers sent or received from particular people in particular time periods.
It seems to slow Outlook's loading only slightly, but that's more than made up for by the way it speeds your productivity. And Xobni analytics wasn't always bang on, missing some received emails accessible in the main search.
A missing feature is a way of customising the interface so that contacts can be prioritised in privileged groups. That way, it might be possible to start collecting data on your most important contacts.
Xobni allows faster and more useful searches through Outlook’s mail, even if it simply fixes the deficiencies that may be better served by finding a different application. But for the humble POP3 Outlook user, Xobni deserves to be recommended as an invaluable tool.