Outlook 2010 People Pane – does it spell death to Xobni
Completely new in Outlook 2010 Beta is the People Pane. This appears below the Reading pane in the main window and in all the individual item windows. It shows thumbnail images, one for every person (or email address) associated with the item and lets you quickly access other items which are also associated with that person/address.
The contents shown in the People Pane are derived from the Windows Search index which is kept up to date as new items are created or arrive via email. When you first install Office 2010 Beta all your existing Outlook items must be re-indexed so don’t expect the People Pane to spring to life immediately but once indexing is complete all the other emails, attachments and meetings known for a person are just a click away.
The People Pane will connect to SharePoint Server 2010, if you have one in your organisation, to find data about a person and to other, as yet unspecified, social networks to get pictures and status updates for that person. If you have a mugshot for the person in your Outlook Contacts or a mugshot can be found on a social network, the People Pane will use that picture for the person. If not, you just get a generic grey person outline which makes it a little difficult to tell people apart. (The 64-bit version of Outlook seems to have a bug making it show the grey outline for everyone whether or not you have a mugshot for them.)
You can minimize or turn off the People Pane if you don’t subscribe to any social networks or you don’t want to see it and the company’s network administrator can tweak settings to deny access to external social networks if they don’t want users getting distracted by irrelevancies.
The People Pane is quick and convenient and is obviously Microsoft’s answer to add-ins such as Xobni – which does much the same things. It is interesting that the first comment to Tim’s blog posting about Outlook 2010 was from Matt Brezina, founder of Xobni. http://www.pcpro.co.uk/blogs/2009/11/18/microsoft-outlook-2010-in-pictures-backstage-view/ In it he advertised Xobni complete with the old quote from Bill Gates calling it “the next generation of social networking”.
I think Mr Brezina may be fighting a rear guard action to try to save his job and his company as the People Pane and the Outlook Social Connector do the vast majority of what Xobni does but they do it better. Just about the only useful thing that Xobni does which Outlook 2010’s People Pane doesn’t is that Xobni scrapes people’s phone numbers out of their signature blocks. However, it keeps this information to itself in its own proprietary data store along with any pictures you give it of your contacts. It would be a lot more useful if it would add the data it gleans to your Outlook contacts folder. At least then the data would synchronize with your mobile phone. Xobni also uses its own indexing technology rather than relying on the Windows Search index (so, if you install Xobni, you have two indexers running, slowing your computer down).
Most of the other stuff Xobni does is fairly useless, such as showing you a chart of what time of day you get emails from Fred Bloggs. I know Tim liked Xobni when he reviewed it. http://www.pcpro.co.uk/reviews/software/179265/xobni but I have to disagree and wrote about my reasons in my Advanced Office column in Issue 173 called “What’s the Point of Xobni”.