Xobni: transform your Outlook experience

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Xobni is a free program that adds a sidebar with a slew of organizational functions to your Outlook.

Principally built around organizing your Outlook data around people (similar in many ways to the Gmail model), Xobni provides a quick way to view threaded conversations with other people, view exchanged attachment history, view contacts you might have in common with another person, perform “lightning fast” searches, view email analytics data, and other functions.

Xobni (“inbox” spelled backwards, pronounced zob-nee) is an add on that aims to provide an alternative way to access your emails and data. Although currently it is only available for Outlook (apparently the world’s most used email client), there are plans to release this for other clients in the future.

I’ve been using this for a while now, waiting for it to move beyond the “invite only” beta in order to post it on Freewaregenius, which just recently happened. You might have had a glimpse of some degree of publicity surrounding Xobni, being featured in the New York Times, Newsweek, etc., and if you were wondering whether it lives up to the hype the answer is a definite yes. Xobni to Outlook is just what the doctor prescribed; it takes a somewhat dysfunctional, top-heavy and unexciting piece of software and adds a set of functions that are innovative and exciting, but – most importantly – it is fast and it works.

Here are the top five things I like about this program:

1- People-centric organization: search for someone by name and Xobni will construct and display a “profile” for that person that includes contact info, statistics, network of contacts, and other info. It will also display the email history with that person with the most recent messages displayed on top. You will like this person-centric approach if you like and/or used to Gmail (although it doesn’t quite replicate Gmail’s “conversations”, it’s a good approximation).

2- Quick attachment discovery: search for someone and Xobni will display a history of exchanged attachments with that person (to and from) for easy access. This surprisingly useful in practice, probably more useful than you would expect at first.

3- Extremely fast search: forget about Outlook’s search; Xobni does its own indexing of your Outlook data when it is first installed and will keep all subsequently data indexed as well. The result: extremely fast searches without having to install the bloated and top heavy MS desktop search.

4- Threaded conversations: search by any topic or keyword “e.g. Project A” and Xobni will display threaded conversations that are related to your search term.

5- The user interface: the sidebar not only looks cool, but handles information in a very nice and efficient way. You cas drill down (and up) the various panes to get more information. But more importantly the sidebar provides refuge from Outlook’s overcrowded and somewhat slow information filtering and retrieval, giving the impression that you’re zipping through your data and email efficiently (which you actually are).

Other functions that should be mentioned:

  • Stats: very interesting function although of questionable practical value, Xobni gives you visual charts detailing time of day when email interchanges take place with each of your contact, the ratio of emails sent vs. received, etc.
  • Appointment scheduler: a function whereby Xobni will check your calendar for time slots when you are available and auto generate an email to the person you want to schedule and appointment with with these times listed. Marginally useful.
  • Phone numbers extracted from email: you can semi-automatically scrape off contact’s phone numbers from their emails and store them in the contact information.

Freewaregenius 5-Star Pick

The verdict: very nice add-on that significantly enhances the Outlook user experience and works extremely well. If you use Outlook you will like this one very much. Microsoft should buy this company and make Xobni an integral part of Outlook.

A video of Xobni in action:

Version Tested: 1.2.3 (build 3640) beta

Compatibility: Windows XP, Vista. Outlook 2003 or 2007 required.

Go to the Xobni home page to download the latest version (approx 2.8 megs).