Outlook is a great way to organise yourself, integrating email, contacts and your calendar. But sometimes finding the information that you remember seeing can be frustrating. Xobni think they have the answer.

Integrating into Outlook, Xobni is an add-in that opens as a side bar. Many Outlook users choose to have their folders down the left, then the contents of that folder, normally the inbox, then a preview screen. If, like us, you have things arranged by date order, that means that when you receive an email, it is often out of context, or comes like a bolt out of the blue referring to something agreed previously that you’d forgotten.

So you set off to search for associated email, or reorder your inbox by sender, or by conversation, or you carry out a keyword search, till eventually you find what you wanted, at which point you rearrange to go back to your preferred set-up.

Xobni proposes to change all this by providing the information instantly in a sidebar. When you receive an email the main content of the Xobni bar shows information about the sender – who they are, the volume of emails you send and receive from that person, some contact details (including the option to call them via Skype, if installed) and then a summary of that person’s network, a history of email conversations and summary of exchanged files.

Most of the information is clickable, i.e., you can click on it to find out more, which is very useful. When you get an email, you can click on the conversation in Xobni and see who said what, without having to go back through your inbox or folders. Again, clicking on part of the conversation will open up the relevant email.

This sort of logical organisation follows through the other sections, click on Files Exchanged, and a list of all the files in reverse date order appears, so you can simply find a file from a particular person. Again, Network allows you to access to a list of names derived from contacts another person has used in emails you received, so for example, if someone is cc’d in an email, you can pull up their details.

The focus of Xobni is around the interactions with an individual, which is a great way of organising yourself whilst being able to leave Outlook as you normally have it. Yes, you can sort and rearrange Outlook to display many of these details, but you don’t want to keep changing the basic set-up you are familiar with.

Xobni works by indexing information, it starts briefly with recent emails on install, but will then cover all your emails and archives (if open in Outlook) when you stop using your computer, i.e., in the background. It also does this initial search very quickly and returns, in our opinion, better results than Microsoft’s Desktop Search option in Outlook.

The software is still in beta, and there are some anomalies that hopefully will be corrected as time passes. We mentioned the contact details previously. This will provide you with a phone number but we noticed that often it would take the mobile number rather than an office number, and sometimes it would have scanned an email and assigned the wrong number, for example from a forwarded email with someone else’s contact details on the bottom.

The details can be edited, but it is also very easy to confirm the number by pulling up an email from that person and confirming it from their signature. Xobni provides the space for a photo of the person, which you might have in your Outlook Contacts, again, we found it picked up some, but not others, suggesting there is a minor inconsistency here.

Hiding in the menu is also an option for analytics, which whilst interesting for casual users, might be of interest to those in business as it will tell you when you are most active across the day or week, time taken to respond, and so on, all with pretty graphs (the panacea of business analysis, for sure).

Xobni is only available for Outlook 2003/2007 in XP/Vista, but the company say they are looking at other email systems.

Price when reviewed:

The best part is that Xobni is free and the search results are lightening fast. If you can live with loosing the real estate from your Outlook window, or are lucky enough to have a big monitor, then it is a great addition.

Our favourite feature is that when you enter your Outlook Calendar, Xobni will display the last email you viewed, because very often you are checking a date, so you have all the information there in front of you, with options to reply from the Xobni bar.

There are some quirks that mean you need to be careful with phone numbers, which hopefully will be ironed out, but otherwise, it’s a thumbs-up from us.