This week we're getting a little more specific on Essentials. Desktop e-mail clients are not for everyone - many of us at Pocket-lint included. Webmail is fast, agile and great to access from anywhere, but home-based applications still have their place if you need a more flexible and larger database for your written communication and contacts. So, whether it's something you're forced to use at work or your preferred choice of mail at home, here is a superb plug-in to make Microsoft Outlook 10 times better than it already is.


e-mail plug-in




The trouble with Outlook is that, despite its multiple windows, it's still far too focused on letting the user do just one task at a time. So, meet Xobni which will open up a whole new world of freedom and multitasking for you. Xobni is a plug-in for Outlook which opens up a new side pane on the right of your screen which itself has a number of different uses and sections.

At the top of this panel is a contacts box and this displays profiles of all the people you've had e-mails with regardless of whether or not you've added them to your address book. Xobni will also pull in each person's phone numbers, if they've been written anywhere in any messages, and it'll also have Skype, Facebook, Linked In and Twitter credentials as well as bringing in status updates made on those social network services.

essentials software to improve your life xobni image 2

Below that it'll also give you statistics on your mail activity with these people. It'll tell you what times of day they've sent you messages, so that you get a good idea of when best to contact them for an immediate response, and also how many messages you've sent each other in each direction, as well as ranking your contacts in order of how much you e-mail them. You also get a list of all the people that person e-mails who happen to appear in your message records as well.

In other words, if you're looking at the profile of your mate Geoffrey, who you know from playing football, and he's included you on a group e-mail with other people who like football - Rod, Jane and Freddy - then even though you've never mailed them, Rod, Jane and Freddy will also appear in that list of contacts below his name. So, Xobni is a way of making your e-mail experience much more social.

So, that's all very nice and pretty, but Xobni starts to get even more useful as you move down the screen. One step lower and you'll be able to see all the threaded conversations you've ever had with Geoffrey in their entirety and they'll unfold in tree diagram-style as you click on each one. All of this within the same small window and without you having to lose your place in the message that you happen to be writing in the main section of Outlook. So, there's no need to go rummaging through a huge body of e-mail messages or start rearranging according to name and date to find a single exchange. It's simply all there at your fingertips in one place.

At the bottom of the Xobni panel is probably the most useful part of all for many people. There sits a list of all the attachments ever exchanged between yourself and Geoffrey - that kind of convenience can save hours of trawling through e-mail accounts when you're in a hurry to find your flight details, train tickets, updated CV, PowerPoint presentation or whatever you needed 2 minutes ago when you should have already been out the door.

On top of all that, Xobni also gives you a detailed analytic look at your overall messaging habits, just in case you really want to marvel at some personal trivia, and it also has an excellent search facility at the top of the screen where you can navigate to specific messages with queries like, "Geoffrey Stoke Away" if you want to find the e-mail from your football friend about the proposed outing to watch your team live at Stoke City, for example.

The best part of this whole thing, of course, is that it's all free. You can even get a Xobni Mobile app for your BlackBerry if you happen to use one. Naturally, there's also a paid for package- well, these developers have to make their money somehow. If you're willing to shell out a one-off fee of $30 per version you can install Xobni Plus. It gives you an advanced search feature, which will find exact phrase matches, an auto suggest feature, technical support for a year and no ads. None are much of a clincher but, then, it's not much of an extra cost either. Give the basic package a try first and then upgrade if you love it.

So, that's Xobni and that's how e-mail becomes all about people, as the company saying goes. Oh, and if you were wondering, Xobni is inbox spelt backwards. The idea is that it's taking back the inbox.

Of course, there are all sorts of other interesting desktop e-mail clients out there and also more plug-ins available for Outlook. Which do you use and are there any gems we need to know about? Tell us just down a few inches in the comments box below.