Easy email-tagging with EmailTags?

During the last weeks, I’ve been testing a new program recently released by StandSS called EmailTags. It looked like a great little Outlook Addon for tagging your emails swiftly instead of moving them into folders. It’s actually amazing that no one else actually came up with this kind of solution long ago! But unfortunately I was quite disappointed by the product (just like with the other StandSS products that I’ve tested before, i.e. EmailNotes and QuickFile (Actually, I am still kindo of using EmailNotes but it’s very unreliable as it sometimes doesn’t display the note attached to an email in the reading pane, which means that it misses the whole idea of reminding you what you wanted to include in the reply to that email. – Quickfile just messed up my whole Outlook and didn’t work properly so that I uninstalled it shortly after installing it).

But let’s get back to EmailTags: This product really has the potential of giving you a Gmail like tagging system on Outlook, but the problem is: it doesn’t. At least I found that it’s not working for me. It is not good at guessing the tags that it suggests because it uses only the sender(s) rather than the subject line and even the guessing of tags based on the email-addresses is not working consistently for me. Sometimes I don’t get a suggested tag even though I just filed an email to or from the same person a minute ago.

And adding tags manually, which you inevitably will always have to do at least at the beginning of a conversation requires quite a lot of clicks and keyboard strokes so that I often found it easier to drag the mail into a designated folder as I did before.

I still have some hope that StandSS will gradually improve EmailTags and so I was going to by the subscription for 7 US$ per year (at least for a year) now that my trial version has expired, but when I went to the website, there was no more cheap subscription but only expensive (20 US$) purchase. Apparently they changed their business model during the trial period. While it is of course their right to decide that, I am pretty annoyed since there is no way I’m going to spend 20 bucks on that immature product. 7 would have been ok, but 20?? And they are even threatening of increasing the price to 30 US$ soon.

It’s a pity, because these guys are really trying hard to make live easier with f***ng Outlook and their support is very helpful, but unfortunately, all in all, they are not succeeding quite yet (see also this post). I’m uninstalling EmailTags and going back to my folder based system. 😦

Another reason to reconsider using email-Tags as opposed to folders is that the tags will not show up on your phone and this has also cost me some time recently. In the folder system, I have all emails related to a certain project in one folder and I can access that folder from anywhere, whereas EmailTags requires an email client that reads the outlook “categories” (and even that will only work if you are on an Exchange server as opposed to IMAP).


How to attach Post-it notes to your email in Outlook

Have  you ever wished to have some kind of virtual Post-it note that you could attach to emails in Outlook? For example to scribble down what you need to mention when you reply? Well, I have. And I was once more annoyed with Outlook when I found that although Outlook (2010) has a notes function, you cannot attach these notes to an email. It’s ridiculous! Well, let’s not discuss this further. It’s just too frustrating.

I found a little program that adds precisely this kind of sticky note functionality to outlook. Actually, I found two, but one of them did not work so well for me, so the one I recommend here is EmailNotes For Outlook. The one that didn’t work was Notes4Outlook (that was the version current in September 2011). So although the design of Notes4Outlook is somewhat more spiffy and it has way more options for customization, I cannot recommend it. I uninstalled it after some timeconsuming and annoying crashes. I even tried a second time a couple of weeks later but it still didn’t work. I guess, I should briefly mention what it was that made chose EmailNotes rather than Notes4Outlook (apart from the bad reviews it got from other users): Well, some pictures say more than a thousand words, they say, so here they are:

This occurred when I wanted to have the Notes displayed below the email in the reading pane rather than on the right hand side. Now the fact that this explanation comes up is nice (as opposed to nothing happening), but the problem is that this kept coming up even when I disabled the Outlook social connector.

This error message occurred when I tried to open a note:

Notes4Outlook also had a tendency to block my whole outlook. Even when I was in Calendar View, it seemed to prevent Outlook from updating the current folder. No idea how and why, but this problem disappeared after I unindstalled Notes4Outlook.

Okay, but lets forget about Notes4Outlook until someone posts a comment telling us that it is running fine now.

Lets talk about EmailNotes for Outlook instead. Its sold for US$ 29.95 by a little company called Standss on the Fijis. I think that’s quite a bit for the basic functionality, I guess they can do that with a near monopoly on that product. And at least it works. Their customer service is quite nice. I wrote to them complaining about a bug and they fixed it, and when I made some suggestions, they listened and replied, though they did not agree to implement all changes. Here is what I suggested (in Brackets is the response from Standss whether they are going to implement it):

I really like the idea of EmailNotes for Outlook but I also think that the price tag is a bit hefty at this point, considering the few features the program has. For 30 USD, I would expect some basic improvements such as the following:

– allow for customization of date/time format for the add date/time button (especially the option to switch to 24h clock!) [YES]
– allow for customizing the font, not only of the note but also the note header that is inserted automatically. The “Comic” font just looks too ridiculous. [YES]
– very important: allow editing the note directly in the note field below the email rather than in an extra window. Strangely enough, this is already possible for the email I’m currently editing, but not for the ones in my inbox) [NO – This is not possible due to a bug in how Microsoft has implemented this feature when using the Reading Pane. We spent many hours working around the bug but there was no solution]
– use the up to date windows buttons in the dialogues [MAYBE – We also support lower versions of Outlook so are limited in the style of button that we can use on the screens]
– add a “cancel” button and the corresponding “X” in the top right hand corner of the email note [YES]
– provide option “reply to email with note as text” rather than putting the note in the attachment.[MAYBE]

Here is an illustration of what I’m talking about:

Apart from that, I can just say, it works fine. Try it.

Is Live Inbox an alternative to Xobni?

[Note: This post has been updated multiple times since it was first published (see below)]
I was thrilled this morning when I discovered live inbox. It’s brand new – launched this month (June 2011) and claims to be an alternative to “evil xobni” (live inbox with each word spelled backwards). I had just started trying out Xobni but – as the live inbox people rightly point out – it came with lots of problems, including nearly no customization options and initial problems with drag-and-drop in Outlook. So I was searching the web for an alternative and I thought I had found it in live inbox.

But after half a day of trying it out – or rather: trying to try it out – I must say that I wish that these guys hadn’t gone public with this product yet. Apart from that it would have saved me from wasting my time, I think that going public at this point of development is going to give them a lot of bad press and that might in the end kill the whole enterprise of developing a good alternative to Xobni. Does

I briefly describe my odyssey with Live Inbox:

– Installation: the automatic download of Microsoft Virtual Studio runtime x86 failed (tried several times) so I located it manually on the web, downloaded and installed it.

– After that, Live Inbox still wouldn’t install, even though my win7 user account has admin privileges (error message complaining that I did not have permission to write in some directory). Only when I started the setup by right-clicking and selecting “run as administrator” did the installation go all the way through.

– But the annoyances were not over at that point: starting outlook took ages even before the live-inbox pane even appeared on the screen and when it did it said “live inbox loading” for I-don’t-know-how-many minutes. Obviously, the add-on was indexing my inbox with several thousand emails. But it was not telling me so and it was not letting me use outlook while it was doing it. In contrast to Xobni, which was almost exaggerating its efforts to keep me entertained during the process.

– Once it had loaded in my Outlook calendar (which is my default view when starting outlook) I found no way to get it to show in a second outlook window which I opened with my emails (right click the mail-icon in the navigation bar). So I am forced to use the *first* outlook window to read my mail.

– I also found no way to close the Live Inbox pane completely. Xobni, in contrast, placed a useful button in the Home-ribbon for that.

– But at least it was operating now. – Or was it? – Well, I would say it wasn’t because it was so slow to react to any click on a mail or wherever, that it was just unbearable. I thought, hmm, maybe I should just restart outlook. After all, Xobni also messed up some part of outlook (I was no longer able to drag and drop a file into an email I was composing), so maybe they mistakenly copied that behaviour too…

– Unfortunately, that made it only worse. The starting procedure seemed even slower now, and, in fact, the Live Inbox pane did not materialize at all (well, it came up as an empty pane and stayed that way for at least 10 minutes). (See the following screenshot.)

Even a system restart did get Live Inbox going.

– Meanwhile, Outlook was using 45% of my CPU and constantly complaining that it was “trying to retrieve data from the Microsoft Exchange server…” which did not seem to work (see screenshot below).

Live Inbox is causing problems with MS Outlook 2010

– I tried rebooting windows, as a last chance but nothing changed (see screenshot below). So off you go: “uninstall live box” was the end of that adventure. Unfortunately. I would have liked to see if these guys can keep the promises the are making on the webpage, but well – I’ll probably come back in half a year or so, hoping that you still exist. But at this point, I can only recommend to anyone: don’t even try to install live inbox. It’s really not worth it. Yet (I hope).

P.S. I should also like to mention that I do not recommend using Outlook as an email client in the first place. I am only using it because my employer (or Microsoft – I don’t know whose fault it is that our Exchange server just won’t cooperate with Thunderbird through IMAP) is basically forcing me to use it. So I’m trying to make the best of it (and would be grateful for any hints or comments of how to make life with outlook more userfriendly, transparent, and customizable).

The above review is based on Version 1.1.7 (compliled 6 June 2011) of Live Inbox on a Win7 Pro machine (32-bit) with Office 2010. Please do leave a comment below if you have experience with a newer version that works!

In case you’re wondering: After having agreed to serve as a beta-tester (see Sumanth’s comment below) I did not hear anything for three months but then I received an updated version of live inbox in which all the above mentioned problems were supposed to be cleared out. However, I had huge problems getting the program running. First, it took 27 minutes to index my inbox and then it kept crashing due to some license issues. Sumanth told me that this was only due to the fact that I had previously installed a version of live inbox and that the issue will be resolved in the next release. So in brief: I am not giving up hope for this to become a true alternative to xobni, but at the moment it still looks like a long way to go.

Update 2 (10 Dec 2011): I thought I should mention that I have received a new version of Live Inbox already in October but I have been so busy those last months that I did not have time to install and test it. I am looking forward to do this sometime soon, hopefully and I’ll let you now the results in a new post. Thanks for your patience.

Update 3 (6 Jan 2012): Just before christmas I finally took the time to check out the latest version (compiled 22 Nov 2011). And I was once again harshly disappointed. It was just a waste of time. Any normal user would have been left with a non-functional outlook after trying to install that version.

First outlook crashed completely while live inbox was supposedly trying to scan my inbox. And when I say “completely” I mean that I had to kill the oulook.exe process on the Windows Task Manager; nothing else worked. After a forced restart, I was asked for a license but clicking on “retrieve license” (as I was told to do in an email from the developers) just led to the license being sent to my inbox again and again (where it had been lying all the time anyway). The software refused to do anything except for telling me that I need a license. As you can see in the screenshot below, there was not even a possibility for me to somehow enter the license manually and it was not possible to activate any part of the plugin without getting this error message.

Live-inbox kept asking for a license inspite of several mails containing the license being in my inbox

The only way to get around this was by saving the license file from the email to my desktop, reinstalling liveinbox and directing it to that file as soon as it asked for the license (rather than clicking on “retrive license”). For a moment it then seemed to work but when I restarted Outlook, the whole Live-Inbox plugin had disappeared again.

The only result of all this was that now Outlooks social networking pane below the reading pane which I had deactivated in the Plug-In options has magically been reactivated. I don’t like it if another program deems it appropriate to reactivate another plugin without even asking me. One of the developers responded to this issue as follows:

LiveInbox really does not care about it [the networking pane]. We do not modify The Addins section in the registry… NO we just don’t play around with other plugins. There is no code in LiveInbox that does that. What social networking pane was this ?

It’s funny that they don’t even know about this! It’s part of Outlook and the official name is “Microsoft Outlook Connector for social networks” (socialconnector.dll).

Despite my frustration with Live-Inbox, I have installed it on my home PC today where I have not been using Outlook before so that it is in its original condition (at work I have several other plugins installed). My home system is Win7 Pro 64 bit with Office 2010 connected to the Exchange Server at work. Here the installation process went a bit better but far from smooth:

  1. During the installation I was told that the .NET Framework version 4 needs to be installed and a browser window was opened with the download page. So I downloaded and installed it but even after that, the Live-Inbox installation was still stuck at the same point and did not pick up the changes I had made. I had to click “Cancel” and restart the installation. This is not how an installation procedure should run. It should at least tell you to restart the process after installing .NET rather than pretending to be still up and running.
  2. After installation, I agreed to “start Live inbox for outlook 2.0” but what was launched was the setup procedure for Outlook, not Outlook with my existing account. Hello?
  3. When I started Outlook the normal way, it suddenly opens two instances of Outlook. Dont ask me why.
  4. After indexing my Inbox, I am again asked for the license key (although there are still several copies in my inbox). Again, I had to save the license file on my desktop and direct live-inbox to it.

Now it is up and running. However, it is not working. I don’t know what these guys are doing, but I thought the point of live inbox was to make it really easy to quickly find any email. So as I was writing this update, I searched for the emails I had exchanged with the live-inbox team. I searched for “live-inbox” which is contained in all of their email adresses but only a single email was found (see screenshot).

Live Inbox only found one out of many emails from it's makers

I did get all live-inbox email adresses that I corresponded with, but not the emails themselves.

So I went back to the native outlook search and here is what I got:

The native Outlook search does find the mails

So without even extending the search to other folders of my inbox, Outlook already found more mails than Live-Inbox. — Hello?

I really don’t understand what’s going on here. As I said earlier: It’s a real pity that the live-inbox people are not getting this to work at all. The only thing that changes is the version number: The current version is already called “Live-Inbox for Outlook 2.0” Ha ha. Unfortunately, I cannot tell you the exact version number of the build that I have been testing in this update because the “About” button in the Live-Inbox ribbon is not working. But, as mentioned above, its the build of 22 Nov 2011.