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Best Outlook Add-Ins and Helpers

by J.W. Olsen
09/14/2004

Microsoft Outlook provides wide-ranging features. But after using it awhile, you will encounter its limits. Fortunately, third-party products ride to your rescue. In this story we look at three popular Outlook helper applications: Nelson Email Organizer Pro, SynchPst for Outlook Professional Version, and X1. These products go beyond adding productivity to Outlook by supporting other email clients and even providing comprehensive search capabilities for all files on your computer.

All of the products are try-before-you-buy software, so you can give them a spin before deciding whether you ultimately want to use one.

Nelson Email Organizer Pro

It's easy to describe NEO Pro in a single sentence: It is an Outlook companion that gives you the power to organize email the way that Outlook should have. It's far more challenging to explain the application's many useful features, however, because the devil is in the details.

Much like Eudora Pro, NEO Pro empowers lightning-quick searching and viewing of messages that meet your criteria, no matter which message stores they reside in. Meanwhile, you can automate message folders so that messages are moved from one folder to another after a specified period of time. NEO Pro's spam-blocking, view-filtering, and message-categorizing features go beyond those of Outlook. Have you ever received a message with a subject line that would make it hard to find later? NEO Pro makes it a snap to edit the subject line in addition to assigning keywords for later searching.

NEO Pro's more petite sibling, NEO ($39.95, which is $30 less than the Pro version), may meet the needs of more casual users. NEO provides less organizing and searching functionality. Neither version alters your Outlook data, instead relying on pointers to that data to perform its magic.

PROS: Powerfully and flexibly organizes and displays Outlook email the way you specify.

CONS: While NEO Pro can be valuable even for casual users, be prepared to curl up in your chair while reading the considerable help file to learn the product's benefits.

Download NEO

Registration fee: $69.95, basic version $39.95

Click for larger view
NEO Pro loads Microsoft Outlook and, with a double-click, intuitively displays its data related to your current item of interest. (Click on the screenshot for a full-size view.)

SynchPst for Outlook Professional Version

SynchPst Professional does just one thing but does it efficiently: it synchronizes Outlook data on two computers, whether they're your office and home machines, your desktop and laptop, or computers on your LAN or WAN. After setting up a few options the first time, you simply select sources on one computer (such as Inbox and Contacts), select destinations on the second computer, and then click to tell SynchPst Professional to reconcile them. After SynchPst Professional moves data, you also typically will want to click another button to sync data in the opposite direction so that any new data on the destination computer is moved to the source computer, too, for full synchronization.

A basic version ($39.95, which is $30 less than the professional version) may be suitable for users with minimal Outlook data (which tends to grow while you sleep). The basic version moves all data rather than letting you just update, for example, email and appointments for a specified time period, which would greatly speed up the synchronization process. The basic version has other significant restrictions, such as the inability to exclude private data from synchronization.

PROS: Makes keeping Outlook data in sync a snap.

CONS: The program would benefit greatly from a wizard or two. Don't even think about using it without first perusing the help file unless you enjoy learning by trial-and-error frustrations.

Download SynchPst

Registration fee: $69.65, basic version $39.95

Click for larger view
SynchPst Professional's menu and interface elements are spartan. Careful review of its help system is essential. (Click on the screenshot for a full-size view.)

X1

It's almost a misnomer to characterize X1 as an Outlook add-in. It's really a find-anything-anywhere search tool. Begin to type a search term, and, faster than any search application we've seen, X1 begins to display the files that contain matches, narrowing its results as you type. You can then display a selected file--even if you don't have the app that created it--with your search terms highlighted. Results can include email messages, email attachments, and a couple of hundred additional file formats. X1 supports Outlook and Outlook Express, Netscape, and Eudora email clients.

We were cruel. Comprehensive search apps tend to take a long time to index files and often slow down your system's responsiveness for other purposes. So we tested X1 on a 500MHz test bed (with Outlook and Outlook Express installed). We observed no discernible effect on other running apps, thanks to excellent program algorithms, yet experienced remarkably fast results.

If we have one gripe, it's that X1 frequently guesses wrong at the precise file we want; fortunately, it presents a wealth of potential matches from which to select manually, or you can edit your search term to try again. The product also provides more options that you can shake a mouse at, so you can refine them to meet your needs.

X1 isn't cheap. But if finding elusive odds and ends scattered around a Windows hard disk is essential, it's worth the price.

PROS: Provides incredibly fast and comprehensive searches.

CONS: Finding precisely the right content involves a learning curve. For users who don't need such a powerful search tool, price is an issue.

Download X1

Registration fee: $99

Click for larger view
X1 makes the near-instantaneous retrieval of data hidden on your hard disk as easy as entering a few search words. (Click on the screenshot for a full-size view.)

J.W. Olsen has written, edited, and served as freelance book project manager exclusively in technology publishing since 1990.


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