10 add-ins that make Outlook easier to use

If you can't do something in Outlook, chances are there's an add-in that can. Susan Harkins lists some handy add-ins that close a few feature gaps.

Outlook is a winner in the add-in department, with so many good ones available. Of course, not all add-ins deliver on their promises -- and some slow down an already performance-challenged program. But there are plenty of Outlook add-ins that expand functionality or enhance existing features. Here are 10 of my favorites.

1: RecoverMyEmail

Outlook is a great management tool, but it's prone to corruption errors. Usually, a corrupt PST file is the culprit, and the result is lost information. If you're lucky, Microsoft's pst repair tool can recover everything. But in my experience, it doesn't.

RecoverMyEmail can repair a broken PST (and DBX) file and recover emails. Figure A shows the add-in at work; the process can take a while. This add-in can also undelete email after you've emptied your Deleted Items folder. It's easy to implement and use. Unfortunately, it won't recover or undelete anything but email items. You'll have to look elsewhere for help recovering contacts and calendar items.

Figure A

Click Open Email File to start the recovery process.
  • Windows 2000, XP, 2003, and Vista
  • Outlook 2000, 2002, 2003, and 2007 (and Outlook Express)
  • $99.95
  • Free trial

2: E-mail Follow-up

Outlook lets you assign a reminder when you send email and then adds the reminder to your To-do list. If you need more (like me), try E-mail Follow-up. This add-in lets you set a response time when you send an email, as shown in Figure B. If the recipient doesn't respond within the allotted time, the add-in will remind you that you're still waiting on a response.

Figure B

Set a response time and let E-mail Follow-up do the remembering for you.
  • Windows 2000, XP, 2003, Vista, and 7
  • Outlook 2000, XP, 2003, 2007, and 2010
  • $24 (single user) up to $1200 (for 100 users)
  • Free trial

3: Lookeen

Despite improvements in Outlook's search features, many users are still turning to Lookeen. It quickly finds Outlook items, email, contacts, appointments, and so on, that contain your search string. Even attachments are searched. Results are easy to work with and provide an additional management tool for previewing, moving, and deleting.

Figure C

Type in the search string and Lookeen finds every item that contains that string.
  • Windows XP, Vista, and 7
  • Outlook 2003, 2007, and 2010
  • $39.80 (single user) with volume discount
  • Free trial

4: Xobni

It happens to all of us: I know John changed the meeting time after Mary said she couldn't make it... but you can't find the message with the new time. And when you finally find it, you realize that John's assistant, and not John, responded with the new time. Xobni works alongside your mail window to display recent conversations, exchanged files (Figure D), and related emails from people in the copy line. You can also view statistics and graphs that will tell you about your email habits.

Figure D

View people and attached files related to a specific email.
  • Windows XP, Vista, and 7
  • Outlook 2003, 2007, and 2010
  • $7.99 a month
  • Free trial

5: SimplyFile

Despite my best efforts, my Inbox stays crowded. I can drag messages to categorized folders, but I have many folders and I'm good at dropping messages into the wrong folder. SimplyFile does what Outlook does, but a bit more efficiently. After a little training (SimplyFile, not you), a single click to the SimplyFile group, shown in Figure E, will move messages. As you use this add-in, its ability to choose the right folder improves. (This add-in doesn't support Google Docs and has known issues with Gmail.)

Figure E

With SimplyFile, filing is a single click away.
  • Windows XP, Vista, and 7
  • Outlook 2003, 2007, and 2010
  • $49.95
  • Free trial

6: Email Scheduler

Outlook offers a bare-bones scheduling feature. You specify a day and time, and Outlook won't send the message before the allotted time. If you're scheduling messages frequently, you'll probably want more options. Email Scheduler fully automates scheduling delayed messages and sending messages. You can attach files and even whole folders. Although this is a handy add-in, be sure to check its restrictions before purchasing -- it doesn't work with Outlook Express or Exchange Client.

  • Windows 2000, XP, 2003, Vista, and 7
  • Outlook 2000, XP, 2003, and 2007
  • $24 (single user) up to $1200 (100 users)
  • Free trial

7: Sent Item Organizer

Occasionally, I run into an add-in that doesn't add functionality, it just lets me do what I want to do more efficiently. Sent Item Organizer lets your organize your sent messages by filing them in specific folders. This add-in is more flexible than Outlook's built-in rules. You can use keywords or email addresses to trigger the move. This add-in is also good for users who need more control but are unfamiliar with Outlook features.

  • Windows XP, Vista, and 7
  • Outlook 2000, XP, 2003, 2007, and 2010
  • $29.95
  • Free trial

8: Easy2Add

The coolest stuff comes sometimes comes in the smallest package. Easy2Add displays a small icon in your task tray. When you want to add a new item to Outlook, click the icon and enter the item. That's all you see, but behind the scenes, it creates a new item in Outlook even if Outlook is closed. Want to add a quick lunch meeting? You don't have to launch Outlook and wait for all those add-ins to load -- just use Easy2Add, enter the details (Figure F), and you're done. You'll have to follow a few rules about the text you enter, but they're simple. (Note: The documentation doesn't list Outlook 2010, but so far, so good; just keep that in mind if you use it with 2010.)

Figure F

Enter item details without launching Outlook.
  • Windows XP and Vista
  • Outlook 2002, 2003, and 2007
  • Free

9: PocketKnife Peek

PocketKnife Peek lets you view HTML messages in plain text without the potential danger of executing a malicious script. After installing this add-in, you'll find a Peek button on the standard toolbar in Outlook 2000 through 2007. In Outlook 2010, it's on the Add-In tab. Select the email item and click Peek. Figure G shows an issue of the Office For Mere Mortals newsletter in plain text. (No, I wasn't really worried about the newsletter. OfMM has been around for ages and is clean and informative!)

Figure G

Click the tabs to view an HTML email in plain text.
  • Windows XP, Vista, and 7
  • Outlook 2000, XP, 2003, 2007, and 2010
  • Free

10: SMS

Microsoft's SMS add-in lets you send SMS text messages through most mobile phones. In addition, you can save a draft, send to groups, print the SMS, and forward a message as SMS or email. You can lookup contacts and use Spellcheck. Connect your mobile phone via Infrared, Bluetooth, or even a USB cable and you're ready to go.

  • Windows Server 2003, XP, Vista
  • Outlook 2003 and 2007
  • Free

Other add-ins?

What other Outlook add-ins would you include on this list? Join the discussion and share your recommendations with other TechRepublic members.