Xobni Releases Premium Version of Outlook Add-on

Startup Xobni on Wednesday announced Xobni Plus, the first in a series of premium versions of its Microsoft Outlook plug-in.

Xobni's software is aimed at making Outlook easier to use and navigate. It lets users search for e-mails, threads conversations and pulls in data about contacts from third-party social-networking sources like Facebook.

The software also provides a set of analytic capabilities for dissecting e-mailing habits. For example, you could determine which days of the week it takes you the longest to respond to e-mails, or who your top contacts are, according to Xobni's Web site.

Since its launch in 2006, Xobni has received a great deal of buzz, with high-profile fans such as Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

But Xobni has also taken some lumps from users and the media, who complained about performance problems with earlier versions of the software.

Cofounder Matt Brezina acknowledged those issues, but said they've since been resolved with the help of "millions of dollars" worth of development.

"That's why we came out of beta [in March]. We're ready for prime time," he said.

Part of the difficulty was Outlook itself, which is tough to develop against, he said.

In addition, there may be no application average business users work with more regularly on a daily basis, he said. Therefore, performance slowdowns "are something that people are very sensitive to. The bar is high."

At the same time, Outlook users are clearly interested in trying tools that may make the experience better. Xobni's no-charge version has been downloaded 2 million times, according to the company. Now Xobni is hoping some of those users are willing to pay for a more powerful upgrade.

Xobni Plus' main focus is on stronger search capabilities, Brezina said.

The initial version provided results for keywords and people, but now users have other search fields, such as for appointments and tasks. It is possible to build queries that span many fields, such as for all the tasks and attachments associated with a particular contact, he said. Boolean and phrase-based queries are also supported.

Other features of Xobni Plus include advanced conversation filtering and new auto-suggest functionality.

Xobni initially used the open-source Lucene search engine, but has created its own search technology to power Xobni Plus, he said.

The upgrade is available for a one-time charge of US$29.95, which includes tech support and upgrades for one year. Users must first download Xobni 1.8, which is available at no charge.

The company is hoping to target both individual workers as well as bulk deals with small- to midsize businesses and enterprises.

Xobni is now prepping a version aimed at the latter group. Brezina declined to discuss the product in great detail, but indicated it will give those customers a range of deployment, security and configuration tools.

Along with paid services, Xobni is setting its sights on other e-mail platforms, including IBM's Lotus Notes, but isn't ready to discuss time frames, he said.

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