Xobni: the magazine titans speak!

Yesterday I mentioned that Xobni, an Outlook add-on that I'd tried and abandoned last year, was out in a new and reportedly much much faster version. Quickly I heard from two magazine-world big shots about their varying experiences with the program.

Below, a reaction from Barry Simon, who has reviewed software for years in PC Magazine and is author of several volumes in the "Mother of all Windows Books" series. Then, and continued after the jump, a highly cautionary tale from my Atlantic colleague Corby Kummer, known to the world as director of the Atlantic's new Food Channel (and perennial favorite for the James Beard Award) and to me as my editor and fellow software enthusiast. Read; judge for yourself; see my "what it all means" comments at the end.

Barry Simon:

For whatever it is worth, I only started using Xobni in November, 2008. I have 1.6 GB main .pst and a total of 5 GBs of pst in my main outlook directory (going back to 2002). Xobni has indexed them all even the ones not loaded into Outlook and I've had no performance issues with it. It is a tool I rely on heavily although its limitations drive me crazy.

The biggest limitation is the inability to do any kind of real Boolean search. You can search for single words or phrases across all mail and can search mail to/from one person for subjects but I've yet to find a way to search for given words in the body of all messages to/from person x.

Corby Kummer:

I downloaded and installed [Xobni], and waited for it to index everything, during which it slowed everything to molasses. I assumed it was the initial indexing that was making everything so slow...

But even afterward, Firefox, all commands, emails, everything was terribly slow... Only advantage, the inane instructional videos featuring some kid named Adam, implied was adding information about Adam and his Facebook and Yahoo profiles, and how to telephone him from contacts list or see where he was in your calendar or LinkedIn, etc--not, in other words, a sophisticated search function.

So I uninstalled it, taking out both the program and the data files it had created; there are two check boxes, and I assumed I would have no need of the indexes in the future. I didn't explain my reasons when after the uninstall I was brought to a screen showing a baleful dog and warned that three out of four user want to try Xobni again when--performance is improved!

Then I rebooted, to get it the hell out of my computer. And saw a blood-chilling error message: "System cannot load user profile. File has been corrupted or damaged. Please contact your system administrator if you see this message again." Well, I only have one user profile, CKummer, and I am the system administrator. With horror I watched as the longitude-striped ThinkPad introductory map appeared, along with an offer to take me on an introductory tour of XP, and XP interface, not classic. Along, puzzlingly, with about *half* my desktop icons...

I started trying to rebuild my setting, gritting my teeth when I got the introductory Firefox screen and an offer to import (non-existent) bookmarks from IE, but then broke down when Outlook, which I found in the programs list, wanted me to set up my email accounts rather than finding my archive and loading my file structure....

So I rebooted, and everything came up again. But now I'm terrified of rebooting, and can't figure out any changes I need to make in my user profile, which seems fine, to be sure I get my damned desktop and settings back. That's my story, and I assume it was something Xobni did, and I would strenuously warn all your readers against it.

Anybody who thinks Corby has got it wrong, take it up with him! You know where to find him. Moral of the story for me: even when I get to a place with real internet connectivity and can download big program files, I think I will stick with my tried and true PC index-and-search utility, the trusty X1. I've used and liked it for years, and while it too crashes or hangs fairly often, it's never (yet!) done so in a way that caused problems for any other program or made me lose any data. There is no quicker way to retrieve the email, the .DOC file, or the PDF that has the info you want -- including, for technophiles, via elegant Boolean searches.