Some parts of Microsoft Outlook are really easy to work with - and
others are not. Firmly in the "not" category is Outlook's so-called
Advanced Search, which offers an inflexible set of ways to search and is
as slow as a geriatric snail to boot. I've looked at several alternative
ways to find stuff stored in Outlook in the past. With somewhat over 7GB
of saved mail accumulated, this is a fairly critical need for me.
Now there's a new kid on the block, and even though it's still in beta,
I'm pretty impressed. Lookout is a new indexing and search tool for
Outlook that's based in the .NET Framework, and it seems to be making
some useful tradeoffs. Rather than looking for information when you ask
for it, Lookout depends on building index files and using them to speed
up the search. This means more setup time (around an hour per gigabyte
of mail on my machine), but it's a bit win when you go to search. A
search that pulled up 120 messages out of that 7GB of mail, all
containing a single word, took just under one second. Lookout is smart
enough to only index when Outlook is idle, though it will suck down
quite a bit of CPU time from other applications that are running at the
This opens up the possibilities of some real time savings down the road.
Imagine subscribing to a bunch of newsgroups because you might need the
information they contain, and then never reading the messages - you can
just search for them when you need them. Or abandon a complex hierarchy
of storage folders in favor of just dumping everything into an archive
The search syntax is quite flexible, letting you specify folders, dates,
message times, recipients, and so on. You also get the + and - syntax
to include or exclude multiple words, as well as phrase searching.
Of course, this is a beta application, so back up everything before you
use it. I haven't had any major problems, but it has run away with RAM a
time or two and required a reboot, and some folks on the Lookout support
board have reported other mystery issues. And one other caution for the
paranoid: Lookout does collect your e-mail address on installation so
they can send you word of updates. The application is free while in
beta; final pricing has not yet been announced.
Mike Gunderloy has been developing software for a quarter-century now, and writing about it for nearly as long. He walked away from a .NET development career in 2006 and has been a happy Rails user ever since. Mike blogs at A Fresh Cup.