Every once in a while, a tool comes around the corner that changes the way you work with Microsoft Office Outlook. Those of you that used, or still use, Outlook 2003 might remember the search tool Lookout. It was like magic when you started to use it. If you don't remember Lookout, check out the "What's Hot" section from the September 2005 issue of Windows IT Pro.

As you know, I'm always looking for Outlook tools or add-ons to feature as my Outlook Internet Site of the Month. A couple of weeks ago, a reader sent me a link for a new free add-on for Outlook called Xobni (which is Inbox spelled backward, by the way). I immediately installed Xobni on Outlook 2007, and now I don't want to be without this tool ever again. I've got Xobni Fever! That's why I decided to write about Xobni and what it can do for you. Let's see if I can get you as excited as I am.

First we'll take a look at what Xobni does. Basically, Xobni adds a sidebar to Outlook, similar to the To-Do Bar. You might want to minimize your To-Do bar or increase your display resolution; my notebook runs at 1024 x 768 resolution and thus doesn't provide enough desktop space for all panes to be open. The Xobni sidebar shows you information about the sender of the currently selected email message. For instance, you'll see the sender's picture if you have it in your Contacts, phone number, statistics about how many messages you've received or sent to the contact, the senders ranking among all your contacts, and a graph showing the times of day the contact typically sends messages to you. By using Xobni, I found out that my number one recipient over the last 10 years is my boss with more than 10,000 messages—can you believe it? Seems I have a good relationship with him.

Below this information, you'll find the Network pane, which lists the people your contact communicates with frequently, gathered from analyzing messages you've received from this person. This feature is useful to find common friends or business partners that you didn't know about. The next pane, Conversations, gives you direct access to your previous email conversations with the contact. This feature has helped me quickly find messages that I stored somewhere in my mailbox's folder structure when I've needed them again.

The last pane, called Files Exchanged, displays all the past attachments the contact has sent. Just yesterday I was looking for an attachment I'd received; I looked up the contact, and immediately found the attachment on the Files Exchanged pane. Two clicks to find an attachment in an email message when I didn't remember what folder I'd stored it in is pretty cool.

Statistics freaks will find the general mail usage analysis interesting. This feature is available by clicking Xobni on the Outlook menu bar and selecting Xobni Analytics. If you've always wanted to know how you use email, this is the place to go. Not only can you see your mail traffic according to schedules you define, but you can also find out the average time it takes you to respond to messages or to identify contacts when you've only received or sent one email message.

So how does Xobni gather this information? Basically, the add-on indexes all your email messages. Xobni then looks into your Outlook profile and indexes all data files as well as your mailbox. Therefore, it's quite a resource-eating monkey. Unfortunately, you're not able to add additional data files such as archive PSTs that you have on a CD and have them indexed as well. This would be a pretty amazing feature because it's also a limitation of Outlook 2007 and Outlook 2003. Also, Xobni works only in Cached Exchange Mode, so it won't work if you're using a PST as the default mail delivery for your Exchange mailbox.

As you can see, Xobni is a very cool add-on for Outlook 2007 or Outlook 2003, and it can be installed on Windows Vista or Windows XP. You need Microsoft .NET Framework installed on your computer before you run XobniSetup.exe. And perhaps the best feature of Xobni is the last: It's currently free—so get it before they change their mind! You can download Xobni from the Xobni Web site.

As always, if you find a link for an interesting new freeware tool or add-on for Outlook, let me know. Send me a message at siegfried.jagott@siemens.com.