Get More From Outlook With Hassle-Free PC

Search Outlook E-Mail With Xobni

For better or worse, I'm an Outlook user. I say that because I like having all my mail, contacts, appointments, memos, and the like under one software roof, but find Outlook itself to be bloated, overwrought pig of a program. Fortunately, I've found a tool that makes it a lot easier to live with: Xobni.

Xobni does just a few things, but does them well. First, it indexes all my e-mail to allow for fast, dynamic searching (results appear as I type). Even better, if I click on a message in my inbox, Xobni shows me a complete profile for the sender: contact information (including phone numbers extracted from e-mail), a list of the e-mail "conversations" we've had, a list of files we've exchanged, and, optionally, his or her details on social-networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn.

You can even check out statistics for each sender, like the number of messages sent and received and a bar chart showing messages sent by hour. I don't find this information particularly useful, but it's kind of interesting.

It's the fast and easy searching that makes Xobni a must-have tool, especially for Outlook 2003 users (Outlook 2007 does have decent mail-search capabilities, but none of Xobni's other amenities). Incredibly, Xobni is free, at least while it's in beta (which it has been for quite a while). Don't tell the company I said so, but I'd gladly pay a few bucks for it.

Send Large Files Right From Outlook

Large file attachments suck. By which I mean they suck up bandwidth, clogging both your outbox and the recipient's inbox (and heaven help the poor dial-up user who gets stuck downloading an unwanted 5MB attachment). What's more, because many mail servers balk at sending and/or receiving large files, your big batch of photos, summer-vacation video, killer PowerPoint presentation, or whatever might get stopped in its outbox tracks.

That's why I'm partial to services like YouSendIt, which let you send big files without all the hassles. To use the service, you head to the site, enter the name(s) and e-mail address(es) of your recipient(s), and then choose the file you want to send it. After it uploads, the recipients get an e-mail containing a link that downloads the file.

Of course, that's a lot more steps than just attaching a file to an e-mail--which is why I'm now using YouSendIt's Outlook plug-in. This freebie lets me leverage the service without using the Web site or even leaving Outlook: I can "Attach by YouSendIt" any file I would normally attach to an e-mail, or have the plug-in automatically kick in for files larger than a designated size (say, 5MB).

There's also a new plug-in for Microsoft Office that works much the same way, but operates within the confines of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Neat stuff.

YouSendIt isn't the only game in town: There are loads of services that match, or even exceed, its capabilities. (Drop.io comes to mind.) But I've always had good luck with YouSendIt, and the plug-ins are icing on the cake. You do have to register in order to use them, but in return you get a free YouSendIt Lite account that lets you send files as large as 100MB.

Avoid Typing the Same Text Over and Over

Tired of typing the same words, signatures, phrases, and even paragraphs over and over? What you need is a program that automatically inserts text when you type an abbreviation or hit a hotkey.

PhraseExpress is one such program, and it's my favorite for several reasons. For starters, it expands typed abbreviations into complete phrases. You could type, say, "fwiw," and PhraseExpress would instantly insert "for what it's worth." Or "sig" to insert a custom signature (complete with images and/or HTML code) at the end of e-mails.

This capability works in any program (word processor, e-mail client, blog tool, etc.), and PhraseExpress can even scan your documents and e-mails to find frequently used text to add to its auto-complete list. (It can import existing AutoCorrect entries from Word, too.) Of course, you can define your own entries as well.

The program also includes a global spell-check feature and a clipboard history tool, which stores all recent clipboard entries, not just the most recent one.

Needless to say, it's a killer app, one you'll quickly come to find indispensable. Last reason why it's my favorite? It's free.

Rick Broida writes PC World's Hassle-Free PC blog. Sign up to have Rick's newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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