A few months ago, CNET Editor Rafe Needleman lauded Xobni, an e-mail search plug-in for Outlook, but wondered where the money would come from to keep the company afloat. On Tuesday night, Xobni responded with a version update, Xobni 1.8, and the introduction of a new premium service, Xobni Plus.
The free version of Xobni 1.8 features a slightly revamped interface that loads faster thanks to a switch from a slightly draggy custom UI (built using C#) to HTML rendering. More important to most users, Xobni's sidebar has gotten richer on the whole, searching the subjects of e-mail attachments in addition to contacts and messages, and stuffing more details into the pop-up box you see after hovering over an item. Xobni now also displays thumbnails of Facebook images in the search results in addition to the profile screen--but you'll only see these for contacts who have enabled third-party extensions in their privacy settings.
You also can't fail to notice that a new Google search bar at the bottom of the sidebar replicates the contents you type into Xobni's search. If you launch Google's search, Xobni will open the results in a new browser tab. You can hide the feature in Options to reclaim more screen space.
These new features, while nifty additions for regular Xobni users, are dwarfed by those introduced in Xobni Plus. The one-time fee of $29.95 for one computer (and $9.95 for each additional) gets you search access to appointments and your Outlook task list. It also opens up the search bar to let you search phrases in quotes or type in Boolean search terms. A new Advanced button flanking the search bar lets Plus users build granular searches for contacts and messages, including flagging e-mails with attachments. This Advanced button is also visible in the free version as a marketing tool, but won't be operational.
Searching the full text in a conversation is another useful, often-requested feature that takes life in Xobni Plus. (The free version will let you see conversations and filter e-mails by subject, but does not provide a filter for full-text search.) Another filter helps you wade through bulky e-mail threads by stripping out all but the direct messages. Then there's this subtle, but terrific, help: Xobni Plus adds its index of incoming and outgoing e-mail addresses to the To field of every message you compose. Even if Outlook hasn't captured the sender's info, you'll be able to quickly e-mail them without hunting through your in-box for their address.
Xobni continues to handily and speedily find messages and contacts. Searches still aren't instantaneous, especially if you're working from a bloated in-box, but they're zippier than Outlook's default. Our greatest complaint is that Outlook's program window must be enlarged for you to see many of these new features. Since the profile window in Xobni's sidebar doesn't give you a scroll bar, people who work with Outlook condensed into a small window may miss the extra features until they expand the application interface.
Xobni 1.8 is free for use, but will have some features, like Advanced Search, disabled. You can use Xobni Plus free for 14 days. Get started by activating Xobni Plus from the sidebar (you can't miss the prompts) and scrolling to the bottom of the sign-up page.