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Three Cool Add-Ons for Microsoft Outlook

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[qi:030] Email remains one of the most important means of communication and Microsoft Outlook is the client of choice for around 400 million computer users worldwide. Anil Dash considers it a platform in its own right, albeit with its own share of problems and vulnerabilities. Microsoft has made many improvements, but some of the best innovations around Microsoft Outlook are coming from little startups.

You know about my fondness for Xobni, the email analytical tool that can tell you amazing things about your email inbox and your email behavior. Today, I want to bring to attention three interesting add-ons that make Outlook more usable.

Boxbe: The San Francisco-based startup has come up with a Facebook-style, invite-only guest list that allows you to tightly control and manage who gets into your inbox and who gets left behind. In other words, it lets you you easily create an email guest list so that you can make sure you receive email messages from people who matter to you — friends, family, co-workers and even entire domains. It is rules-meets-spam protection-meets-social networking in an Outlook plugin.
While it sounds mundane, it is actually pretty impressive when you start using it. Boxbe also works with Yahoo Mail and Google GMail. In the case of Yahoo Mail, Boxbe uses the Yahoo Mail API and basically creates a Boxbe-folder, which allows you to carefully sift through everything, and classify it as you deem fit. Damn shame they haven’t created a Mac version of their service.

ClearContext: The company, also based in San Francisco, has developed an “inbox management” add-on that has a more project-centric view of your inbox and automatically helps you keep track of specific projects and related items such as emails, to-dos and calendar items in a highly automated manner. There is an interesting feature in this software: colleague spam.

Much of our inbox gets cluttered by inane messages on which we are copied for no logical reason. Of course, there is an increased amount of crap mail that comes from social networking sites, and it is easy to control that with ClearContext and Boxbe. I like what I have seen so far, enough to give this a week-long try. (I run Microsoft Outlook 2007 via VMWare Fusion for such trials.) If you can’t wait for my full review, then download a trial version.

SendShield: This is an interesting little plug-in: it basically eliminates the problem of sending Office files with too much information. Apparently, people send tracked changes and other comments in document attachments (and that can be quite embarrassing.) The plug-in strips out all that extra metadata when sending files like documents and spreadsheets. It is still in beta and available for download here. I have not tried this plug-in just yet, so consider this as an informational alert.

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42 Responses to “Three Cool Add-Ons for Microsoft Outlook”

  1. Rick Powell

    Anyone know of a simple way to add additional choices to the Snooze drop-down list. Like it goes from 1,2,3,4 days to 1,2 weeks. I would like to add 5,6 days (in addition to other hours, etc.). Thanks in advance!

  2. I tried all 3 and let me confess – all of them are massively impressive. Well, I didn’t like Sendshield too much but it still is quite useful for a few. I am impressed with the ClearContext – Boxbe combo and I am thinking of implementing it for one of the perennial problems in my org – inbox management and tracking of activities distributed to various colleages. Actually I want a system wherein all mails sent to a central email id are captured by the system and the administrator then assigns part of work to various collegues – then the admin collates the responses sent by each of these and finally sends the consolidated response to the original sender. Can someone help me build this type of system?

  3. One of the most recently announced plugins for Outlook is SplitEmail. It adds personalization to every day email communication. The entire concept is new and has never been done before. I am looking for some feedback from some forward thinking Outlook users. Software can be downloaded from

  4. Hedley Lamarr

    OK, I’ve been using ClearContext for about a year or so and paid for upgrades from v2 to the current v4. It’s pretty good, it’s second nature now to assign topics and file email accordingly.

    I tried Boxbe but stopped using it after a while.

    Lookout is great for searching Outlook.

    Plaxo is brilliant for syncing between my Mac/iCal/Address book/iPhone at home and Outlook on my work PC. I’ve only been using it for a week or so but it’s excellent.

  5. I had a chance to try out SendShield. It’s not as multi-functional as ClearContext, but it does a great job of stripping out hidden / secret / unintended meta-data from the attachments. An iPod-like plug-in tool when it comes to neat little email gadgets.

  6. Brian Moura

    Yes but Lookout Search works better than the native search in Outlook 2007! That’s one reason why some folks haven’t made the move from Outlook 2003 to Outlook 2007.

  7. I wish someone would make this simple plugin:

    How many times have you written “attached is the…” only to forget to actually attach the file?

    Can someone make a plugin or rule that says if the word “attach” is in the email and there is nothing attached a popup box would come up asking if you’re sure you want to send without attaching a file…nice little reminder, you know?


  8. OM,

    Your links for ClearContext & sendshield are not working, looking at the url, you forgot the .com after clearcontext and you spelled SendShield wrong it’s “ie” not “ei”. . . .

    Hope this helps.