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Bill Bennett

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Still not convinced by Xobni

While the latest upgrades to Xobni give Outlook another shot in the arm, they underline the shortcomings of desktop email. Giving up on Outlook and moving to Gmail may be a better option.

Xobni (inbox backwards) turns everyday email into a relationship management tool by focusing on people and not messages.

The program is a Microsoft Outlook plug-in. It sits on top of the application and digs into Outlook’s data, slicing and dicing it to emphasis your links with contacts.

Xobni’s toolbar occupies the right hand side of Outlook’s main display providing contact information about the person who sent the incoming message.

Are they important?

You’ll see the person’s name at the top of the Xobni pane along with their photo if you’ve stored one in your Outlook Contacts. You’ll also find statistics on your communications with them and a rank – so you’ll know something about that person’s relative importance to you.

If there is a phone number anywhere in the messages or contact details, it’ll be shown – it’s clickable. Likewise a link allows you to quickly schedule a calendar appointment with that person.

Xobni shows recent conversations and email threads between you and the person in question along with clickable links to any attachments that have travelled between you. There are also improvements to Outlook search – though Microsoft’s updated desktop search nullifies the value of this.

Xobni’s instant productivity pay-off

On their own, none of these features are earth-shattering; together they deliver an instant productivity payoff. You’ll find you won’t need to switch between your messages and contact database – that’s a time saver in itself. You’ll also need to run fewer searches – just about everything relevant to an email is quickly to hand.

Some of Xobni’s features seem advanced. For example, the program does a good job of figuring out when someone uses more than one email address and lumping all their messages together. Another neat trick is the way it mines emails for the names of other people in your contact database, then displays them in a clickable form.

Xobni isn’t only about improved productivity; it also delivers a fresh people-oriented way of looking at information allowing you to build better relationships.

So why am I not convinced by Xobni?

I used Xobni for a few months when it first appeared. While the application looks good and can boost productivity for some users, I found it didn’t help me in any practical way. If anything, Xobni reports are a distraction. They are pretty to look at and interesting at first – but that’s about it.

What’s more, Gmail has improved to the point where its now perverse for a person working alone to prefer Outlook. Ironically, Gmail’s weakness is the way it handles people. If Xobni worked with Gmail, the developers would have a killer product on their hands.

Finally, Xobni slows Outlook down and on occasion stops it from working — albeit temporarily.

Xobni makes sense if you work for a company where you have to use Outlook, live in Outlook and the support policy is liberal enough to allow you to install it.

To me Xobni is the chrome plated hub caps and giant tail fins on those beautiful, but dinosaur-like American cars from the 1960s in an era when we’re all driving more practical Toyotas. It is an anachronism.

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