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Hate Microsoft Outlook? Top 10 annoyances and how to fix them

By Preston Gralla
January 13, 2009 12:00 PM ET

Annoyance No. 4

Outlook doesn't offer much help with e-mail overload. Outlook's limited searching, filtering and sorting functions can take you only so far if you're looking to better organize your e-mail and improve your productivity. It won't let you view entire message threads, for example, and its search features could use some help.

How to fix it: A lot of Outlook add-ins make big claims about helping with e-mail overload, and I've found one that actually delivers -- and in a big way. The free Xobni (that's inbox spelled backwards) makes it extremely easy to find e-mail, information and contacts. It may be the best Outlook add-in I've ever used.

Xobni appears as a sidebar on Outlook's right-hand side. When you read an e-mail message, the sidebar displays information about the person with whom you're communicating, including a list of all "conversations" you've had with him, a list of all files you've exchanged, the person's phone number and your "social network," which is essentially a list of shared contacts with whom the two of you have exchanged e-mails or been cc'd on.

That means for every e-mail you get, you can see a quick history of all of your previous e-mail exchanges with the sender, a tremendous timesaver when you want to review your communications with someone. Xobni also lets you review all of the e-mails in the sidebar itself by clicking on any of them, and it shows the e-mails as threaded conversations so you can trace their history.

There are also convenient icons in the sidebar screen for sending an e-mail to the person and scheduling a meeting via Outlook's calendar.

And at the top of the screen is great information for data addicts, although it's unclear how useful it actually is. You'll be shown the total number of e-mails you've exchanged with the person, the rank of the person among those you've exchanged e-mails with, and a graph displaying the hours of the day and how many e-mails you typically receive from that person during each of the hours.

Xobni
The Xobni add-in is heavy on analytics.
Click to view larger image

In fact, statistics lovers can quickly get lost in this program; there's a Xobni Analytics feature that provides a mind-boggling amount of information about your e-mail use, such as the average amount of time it takes you to respond to people by day, month and week. And that's just the beginning. You can, for example, even see the median time it takes you to respond to individuals, to individuals in a domain ... well, you get the picture.

Don't get this program for the analytics, though. Get it to cut through your Outlook e-mail and information overload.

Annoyance No. 5

Outlook crashes constantly. Sometimes it seems as if Outlook crashes more than it actually runs. Didn't anyone tell Microsoft that the point of an e-mail program is to get e-mail -- not to turn belly-up every other time you open it?

How to fix it: We can't offer fixes for every Outlook crash, but we can address what is most likely the primary cause of problems -- add-ins. Some Outlook add-ins will crash the program on their own, and others will crash Outlook when they're installed in concert with other add-ins. So your best bet for stopping crashes is to first figure out which Outlook add-in or add-ins might be causing the crashes and then delete them.

One good way to find out if add-ins are the culprit of crashes is to first run Outlook in safe mode and see if it crashes. Safe mode disables all add-ins, so if you run it in safe mode and it still crashes, add-ins aren't the cause of your problems. Conversely, if you run it in safe mode and it does crash, then an add-in is likely the cause and you're then free to go through the steps I outline below for finding the culprit.



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