External tools to search Microsoft Outlook 2007

Saturday, December 13th, 2008 at 9:10 am | 12,297 views | trackback url
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I’ve always been Linux and Open Source developer, supporter and user for as many years as I can remember. I’ve always sought to unify my personal space and environment starting with the tools available in the OSS community because they tend to fit my needs a LOT more than most of the proprietary vendor tools. The other benefit of using the OSS solution is
that if I run into a bug, I can either fix it myself or report it and have it fixed upstream very rapidly so everyone can take advantage of the fix.

But there really is no better calendaring solution that I’ve personally found in any flavor or OS than Microsoft Outlook 2007. Sure, it has its faults, as does any product of this level of complexity, but it works well and seems to suit my needs… and also allows me to quickly pull that information around to my other calendars (Work, Personal, Seryn, Holidays, Friends) and I can easily sync my Treo 680 to it to keep my various calendars fresh. I can also sync it to Google Calendar and export it to a CSV or XLS file for import into other incompatible systems.

However, the single biggest flaw that I’ve run into with Microsoft Outlook 2007 is the “Search” functionality. It is downright useless for anything other than taking up toolbar real-estate.

Granted, I’m spoiled by the power and simple flexibility of Google’s search. I’ve never, not even once, needed to go beyond Page 1 of any Google Search Results (SERPs). When I get results, I look at the quality, then tweak my search accordingly and re-submit. I don’t page through multiple pages until I see what I want.

Outlook doesn’t even correctly search all of the words you put into the search box. For example, if you received a message that included a subject of: “::trap id::820 (Server online) ...” and searched for “Server online” (without quotes), you get results that include the word “Server” and results that include the word “online”. If you use quotes (a Google thing), you get 0 results. If you search for “trap id”, you get 0 results. Well that’s just helpful.

I won’t ramble on about the multiple hundreds of other searches that I can clearly see results for in my Inbox, which Outlook quietly ignores… there are plenty. The Outlook search not only sucks, it’s flat-out broken. I don’t see Microsoft spending any time fixing this any time soon.

Enter third-party search tools to the rescue!

I found this thread on a quick Google search for better search tools for Outlook. The results of that thread boiled down to two leading tools:

  1. Xobni (“Inbox” spelled backwards)
  2. Lookeen

I decided to give them both a thorough test drive and see which one would suit my needs. I pointed both of these plugins to three email accounts I have configured in Outlook 2007 on my laptop, including one that is very-much littered with attachments of every kind and variety, thousands of calendar items, meetings, and two Gmail accounts… one of them with over 300,000 separate emails in it stretching back 10 years. Believe me, these plugins are going to get a serious workout!

One important thing to note is that my work Outlook instance inside the corporate firewall (also Outlook 2007) is so locked down that I can’t install any add-ons into it. In fact, the whole machine is so locked-down that I can’t even double-click the clock in the corner to see the mini-calendar or add a printer or change the desktop wallpaper or screensaver! At work, I’m stuck with the default, broken-by-design Outlook 2007 search. Since that one uses Exchange, it’s even slower than my local Outlook 2007 instance running inside VMware on my laptop.



First, the bugs and negative points:

  • Slow, slow slow!
  • Requires installing itself as a Windows service which runs all the time, not just when Outlook is running. The problem here is that I keep all of my Outlook data files password-protected (for obvious reasons), and when Outlook isn’t running, the service fires up to index the Outlook data and prompts me for a password. Very inefficient, and doing so loads Outlook, which I do not always want.
  • No advanced search (this thing -“not this one” +that)
  • Broken search when using punctuation (search for “DBD::Sybase”, for example)
  • Seems to incessantly try to get to the net to look up photos, Facebook profiles, LinkIn profiles and so on with no way to disable it. Inside the corporate LAN, none of these sites are accessible, and it drags the search to a crawl, as it attempts to contact those sites and times out.
  • Related to the last item, disabling those “Third-party Extensions” (as Xobni calls them), does not remove the buttons for those extensions from the UI, so they are still accessible to be clicked, they still attempt to query the net, and they are still visible on the GUI.
  • Nasty bug when backspacing to the beginning of the search box and then typing again. 100% reproducible and annoying. I basically have to type at 1/3 the speed to stop it from triggering the bug. Unacceptable.
  • Minimizing the Xobni sidebar uses a minimize widget that sits on the bottom of the bar, completely out of place from the » chevrons for minimizing other widgets which are at the top of each of their respective sidebars.
  • Minor nit: The Xobni skin/theme doesn’t match the Outlook skin/theme, so it stands out like a sore thumb and looks like a clunky “bolt-on” rather than an enhancement. If you have the folder tree, Inbox, message preview, Xobni and Task bar all displayed in 4 vertical columns.. the Xobni one (3rd column) really sticks out. In fact, when you minimize the sidebar, it goes from a black/dark skin when exposed, to the proper, Outlook-compatible color theme/skin when minimized. It’s not consistent. Even the size of the chevrons differs in the minimized and maximized versions of that sidebar.

The good points:

  • Free as in beer
  • Lots of great features that no other search or plugin I’ve found has (“network”, statistics, attachments widget)
  • Relatively fast searching and display of results, including a hover preview mode



The bugs and negative points:

  • Everything is in a popup window, nothing docks with Outlook itself (like Xobni does, for example). Popups are sometimes ok because they can be minimized and moved out of the way, but in this case, having the search results side-by-side with the actual content would be better.
  • Can’t remove searches to re-edit them (changing “Search This” to “Search this” (letter case changes) are ignored when you type them, but are Case Sensitive in the actual search results). Ideally I should be able to expand the search history and hit Delete on each one like I can with the search history in a web browser. I can clear the whole search history, but that’s an all or nothing operation. I can’t delete bogus searches, leaving the others there (which might be frequently-used searches)
  • $39.80/USD price tag. While I have no problem paying this for a functional plugin, there are quite a few niggling things that don’t justify that cost at this point.

The good points:

  • A LOT faster than Xobni. I mean a LOT. Searching is faster, indexing is faster, everything is faster.
  • Between the two, Lookeen handles all sorts of attachments much better and visually represents them in a way that is very quick and easy to visually filter in or out what you’re looking for, IMO. It also has a “Conversations” button in several places that makes zooming into a relevant conversation from a highlighted message or user very quick. Additionally, you can go from 1 day, 1 week, month of conversations to further narrow your search results and scope. Very well thought-out.
  • Lookeen docks in the toolbar, which has a few advantages, while Xobni docks in the sidebar (and based on its featureset, leverages slightly different advantages there)

The Conclusion

Ultimately, I’ll probably continue to use Lookeen, because it does what it advertises to do much better… searching and finding. Yes, their implementation of searching is a bit “clunky” with the popup windows instead of docking against Outlook, but I can deal with that for now. The graphical slowness and constant “Internet poking” that Xobni does completely negates any benefits it provides with the statistics and grouping of messages and search results.

I’m still looking for other options that Lookeen and Xobni provide. If anyone has any ideas or suggestions, I’m all ears.

Last Modified: Saturday, December 13th, 2008 @ 09:10

3 Responses to “External tools to search Microsoft Outlook 2007”

  1. Jonathan Roalstad said on

    I personal prefer lookeen, becaus xnobi was so big that it slowed my pc and outlook really down and even with the search results i wasnt very satisfied! The oppsite for me was lookeen, it always brings me the right results and is fast too! There is a new version of lookeen out now with which you can improve you search and make it better than it already is! For me a great help in my work-life because i save a lot of time and for that i have no problem to pay the price, even if it is not expensive, because you pay it once and have it forever!

  2. Johan H. Hummerhielm said on

    Thank you so much for recommending Xobni! It works wonder when I’m trying to find/search for a specific e-mail!

    Even better is that Xobni instantaniously look up all related e-mail to the person you have your marker on(!) Incredible!

    Jonathan: Lokeen, which you are recommending ain’t free, which is why I’m sticking with Xobni for the moment. I mean. A 14 day-trial is just crap. Freeware is so much better!

    Thanks for the tip tho!

  3. Did you ever find a good search tool for Outlook 2007?

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