Five 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.

Note: This list is based on an entry in our 10 Things blog.

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 $1,200 (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.

  • 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, and related emails from people in the copy line (Figure C). You can also view statistics and graphs that will tell you about your email habits.

Figure C

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: 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 look up 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