Email may have been the killer app for the internet, but it’s come at a price. The hourly barrage of messages has started to become a dreaded part of our day, and it surely won’t be long before office workers start claiming thousands in compensation for information fatigue. Fortunately, Xobni – Inbox backwards – is here to solve our woes.
It installs by default as a sidebar down the right-hand side of the Outlook window, and its benefits are obvious as soon as its initial “synchronisation” (where it churns through your Outlook data) is finished. The instant you click on an email Xobni collates all the vital information about the contact whose missive you’re currently admiring.
Its first trick is to display a phone number for the contact, either from your Contacts record or previous emails that person has sent – Xobni intelligently figures out phone numbers from signatures.
It shows recent email conversations with your contact and even files that you’ve exchanged. There’s also a list of “related” people, so if you’ve ever cc’ed him or her along with numerous others then they’ll all appear.
You can also see the time you’re most likely to get a response from them. A bar chart at the top of the window displays all the emails you’ve received spread over 24 hours, along with their ranking – based on the volume of email you’ve sent them and they’ve sent you.
Admittedly, we’re yet to see any practical benefit of either of these last two features, but they add a nice graphical finish to what would otherwise be a text-heavy panel.
Click on the Organize tab and you’ll see upcoming appointments, to-do lists and a selection of people Xobni suggests you should keep in touch with (those you haven’t emailed for a month or more) and, though it sounds frivolous, it’s a surprisingly useful list to have.
This feature is as nothing to Xobni’s crowning glory, however, and that glory is search. Yes, we’re well aware you can install Google Desktop Search, Copernic or many others and all the associated documents will be displayed. But Xobni has a trick we’re yet to see elsewhere: enter the search term, and it simply checks your Outlook database for any such words.
It knocks Outlook’s built-in search into a cocked hat, as this will only check the particular area of Outlook you happen to be in – the main inbox, say, or just Deleted Items. Xobni will do them all, and return a relevant result instantly, as you type.
For example, we simply entered Xobni and it returned all 18 emails we’d sent and received regarding this review, and the two email contacts we’d used. It’s simple but effective.
Xobni also installs as a menu item in Outlook, and clicking on it brings forth another rich vein in the form of Xobni Analytics.
Want to see in an instant how many emails you’ve received today? How many you’ve sent? How long it takes for you to respond to emails? Then Analytics is your friend, as well as being a potentially useful business tool.
It does highlight one of the current product’s flaws, however: if you delete an item, it won’t be shown up in these stats (though it does still appear in searches).
For the writer of this review, that’s a pain – I use Outlook as an electronic to-do list, and anything in my inbox is dealt with and then deleted. As such, a lot of the analytic data is useless to me. Fortunately, Xobni is planning to allow users to select folders to index in a future release.
For many, though, Xobni’s biggest flaw is that it can cripple Outlook’s performance. We installed Xobni on six systems in the PC Pro office and had to uninstall it in two of them because the user found Outlook became unbearable to use. But on our slowest system – a 1.2GHz dual-core ultraportable with a 4,200rpm hard disk and 1GB of RAM – we had no problems.