Finally, a replacement for Lookout, aptly named Lookeen

After Microsoft bought Lookout, by far the best Outlook indexer, they incorporated its functionality into Windows Desktop Search.  WDS is a horrible app, in my opinion.  Microsoft chose to intentionally disallow Lookout as an add-in in Outlook 2007.  I have tried other indexers that work with Outlook, but none could compare to the efficient and fast Lookout.  I settled on Nelson Email Organizer (NEO), which is a standalone application.  It does do some nice things, but it just isn’t the same.

A successor to Lookout has found: Lookeen.  Like Lookout, it is a COM add-in just for indexing your mailbox (not a bloated app that also indexes your mailbox).  It is very fast, and offers a nice feature that Lookout never did: it display results in a tabbed window, so you can view results by their item type (messages, appointments, contacts, files, etc.).  Lookeen is in beta right now, but you can download it and give it a try.  I haven’t tried any complex searches, but my early results are very positive.

Limitation using automatic formatting in all versions of Outlook

There is a limitation in the use of automatic formatting to control how a message is displayed in a folder’s message list.  I had been trying to use automatic formatting to change the color of messages in a particular folder if they contain a certain word in the body.  I have a rule that moves some daily reports I receive into the folder, and rather than open each report if nothing has changed in the results of the report since it last ran, I wanted to have messages that contain a word that is in them when they have been updated to display differently.  This way I can simply delete the reports with unchanged data, but still open them if I want to (which is why I am not using a rule to delete them upon arrival).

However, the automatic formatting was not being applied to messages that contained the keyword.  I tried several different ways within the conditions editor of applying the formatting, all with the same results.  I decided to open a case with Microsoft since we have loads of Premier incidents available to use.  I had to work through several engineers until I finally got to the Outlook development team who had to look at the source code to determine why it wasn’t working.

That is when they discovered the culprit: a limitation that is by design.  When using automatic formatting, only the first 256 characters of the message body will be searched.  This is for performance reasons.  I couldn’t understand why this would be the case since rules will search all of a message body.  Then I realized why and it does make sense:  Automatic formatting is part of the view for a folder.  Views are calculated and applied each time you switch to that folder, so displaying the font face/color/size and bold/italics of each message in the folder list is dynamically applied each time you switch to the folder.  The default automatic formatting rules for a folder include unread, overdue, and expired messages, plus group headers, etc.  There is definitely a performance risk if Outlook had to search the entire message body of every message in a folder to determine how it should be displayed.  To mitigate this, message body searches are limited to 256 characters when part of automatic formatting.

Rules aren’t subject to this limitation because they are one-time processes.  Rules are applied only when a message arrives or is sent (or when you manually run one).  So the workaround for my issue is to use a rule to search the body for a keyword, assign a category to it if there is a match, and then move it to the folder.  I then use automatic formatting to change how a message is displayed if the category is the one I assigned.  I have to create a rule for each keyword I am looking for (since I am also looking for reports that have errors), which isn’t as efficient as defining multiple automatic formatting rules, but it is an acceptable workaround since the results are the same.

Add attachment preview handlers for Outlook 2007 in Windows XP

Outlook 2007 comes with attachment previewers for a few file types, such as txt, but nothing for common attachment types like zip files, pictures, videos, web pages.  Outlook 2007 running on Vista comes with more because Vista has attachment previewing inbuilt.  I found a tool written by Gil Azar, which he in turn uses some code written by Stephen Toub in MSDN Magazine, that adds attachment previewing for the more common types.

This isn’t a difficult installation, but know that it is written by one person who made it available and so there isn’t any real support, but when I found an installation issue and emailed Gil with information of what I did to fix it, he promptly replied.

  1. Download the J# 2.0 redistributable package from MS.
  2. Download the previewer installation file from Gil’s website.
  3. Install the J# package.  No reboot is necessary and you shouldn’t have to exit any programs.
  4. Exit Outlook if it is running and install the previewer.

One bug I have found is that if you try and run a file from within a previewed zip file whose type isn’t registered in Windows, you will get an error (such as a file with no extension).  Outlook won’t crash or anything, but you will have to save the zip file to disk in order to do something with the unknown file type.

These are the combined (Gil’s and Stephen’s) file types it will preview:

  • PDF – This handler uses Adobe Reader’s ActiveX control
  • SWF – This handler uses Adobe Shockwave Flash’s ActiveX control.
  • HTML/HTM/XML – This handler uses Internet Explorer’s ActiveX control.
  • ASF/WMV/WMA/AVI/WAV/MPG/MPEG/MP3/MIDI/AIFF/AU – The same, but with Windows Media Player’s ActiveX control.
  • ZIP/GADGET/MSI/RESX/SNK/KEYS – Not implemented natively, but only forwards interface calls to Stephen Toub’s managed preview handlers.
  • CS/VB/SQL/JS – Like the previous group, not natively implemented, but added to a wrapper.