Posts from May 2006.

ClearContext 2006 Email Usage Survey

It’s time again for our annual email usage survey.  Last year’s survey yielded a lot of interesting information about email usage patterns and the various ways that people cope with email overload.  This year’s survey is largely similar to last year’s, though we did add the questions outlined in Microsoft Research’s whitepaper, A Scale for Measuring Email Overload.

The required portion of the survey should take just a few minutes to complete.  We also hope you take advantage of the free-form questions to provide more detailed feedback about your email use and challenges.

The more people who complete this survey, the better and more interesting the results will be.  So, all links to the survey are appreciated and please forward this information on to anyone who you think might be interested.

As an added incentive, we will be offering a coupon good for $15 off the purchase of a ClearContext product to every respondent.  We’ll also randomly pick a number of these survey respondents to receive a free, fully licensed copy of ClearContext IMS Pro.

Thanks in advance for your time and we look forward to hearing your responses.  We will post the results to the survey in our blog in the coming weeks.

Take the ClearContext 2006 Email Usage Survey

ClearContext and the 2007 Microsoft Office system: Part II

Last week we shared the results of a quick test of ClearContext v2.04 against Outlook 2007 Beta 2.  Today I want to talk in more detail about our plans for future releases of ClearContext, specifically the functionality we are building to take advantage of new features in Office 2007.

Made for Office 2007

The Outlook team has opened up many additional features to their development partners in Outlook 2007.  These features will allow us to more tightly integrate ClearContext functionality into the Outlook UI.


Ribbon Support: As we mentioned in yesterday’s post, the first thing we need to do is build ribbon support for our open item toolbars.  This will ensure that our application maintains Outlook’s new look and feel and should eliminate the extra click currently needed to get to our toolbar.


To-Do Bar Integration: We plan to add deferred items to the new Outlook 2007 To-Do Bar.  Much like our ActionView, this will allow the To-Do Bar to be a truly global To Do list, showing various action items throughout Outlook (Appointments, Tasks, Flagged Messages, and Deferred Items).


Context Menu (Right Click) Integration: Ever since we released v1 of Inbox Manager, our customers have asked us for the ability to right click messages and perform ClearContext actions.  Though it couldn’t be accomplished in earlier versions of Outlook, Outlook 2007 will support this.  We will place our most commonly used features on the right click menu for easy access.


Navigation Pane Enhancement: As I mentioned in last week’s post, I really like the new Navigation Pane.  We are looking into ways to take advantage of this new features with potential customizations such as showing ClearContext topic folders in the Navigation Pane.


Enhanced Category and Flags Support: The Outlook team has done a
good job of exposing flags and categories in an easy to use way in
Outlook 2007.  We’re going to capitalize on this new functionality by
enhancing our ActionView and the way we handle topics and categories
within ClearContext.

Integrated RelatedView Dialog: Currently, the RelatedView button
opens a new window with all email, tasks, and appointments related to
the current conversation.  For Outlook 2007 we are exploring ways to seamlessly integrate
this information into the Outlook UI without the need to open a separate window.

We’re planning to release a major IMS upgrade while Office 2007 is still in Beta.  This upgrade will contain many of these Made for Office 2007 enhancements.  Others will follow after Microsoft’s official release of the 2007 Microsoft Office system.

ClearContext and the 2007 Microsoft Office system: Part I

Earlier in the week the Outlook team released Beta 2 of the 2007 Microsoft Office system.  Congrats to the team on getting Beta 2 out the door!  It’s exciting to see the next release of Office getting closer to reality.  We’re a Microsoft partner and have been working with Outlook 2007 internally for some time now.   As we have mentioned before, we are excited about the possibilities that this new release offers us.  I spent some time this week testing our current version of ClearContext against Outlook 2007 Beta 2 and solidifying our Made for Office 2007 plans.

ClearContext v2.0.4 & Outlook 2007 Beta 2 – Does it Work?

Though we won’t officially support ClearContext running on Outlook 2007 until it’s released, we have had a number of customers ask us about our compatibility with 2007.  I’m pleased to say that a lot of the quirks we noticed in pre-Beta 2 versions of Outlook are gone and the application more or less runs as expected.  Some of our customers have found the same thing.

For my testing I ran a POP account setup on Outlook 2007 Beta 2
(12.0.4107.1006) against our current release, v2.0.4.  My test machine
was running Windows XP updated to all the latest patches.  I let
Outlook create a clean PST file for me and loaded it with a bunch of
email from an unused account.  As you can see, our Inbox toolbars
loaded as expected.


Note the collapsed Navigation Pane on the left hand side of the window.  So far, this may be my favorite feature in Outlook 2007.  Since I use ClearContext filing buttons exclusively to file my messages, the folder list in 2003 was not very important to me.  Now I can collapse it and open as needed.  Very slick.

In open messages, our current toolbars are all there and function as intended, but you currently must click the Add-in tab on the UI to access them.  In our 2007-compatible release, we will build in ribbon support and plan to eliminate this extra click.


The same is true for tasks, delegated tasks, and appointments.  All ClearContext toolbars will get the ribbon treatment for these items as well.


There are a couple of ClearContext-related quirks that we’ve noticed while running Outlook 2007:

  1. Some customers have reported performance degradation when filing and scoring messages.  A fix is in the works.
  2. When creating a task, appointment, or followup from a composed message, only the message header is pasted into the item – the body of the message is dropped.  We’ll have this eliminated in our official 2007 release as well.

Other issues we’ve noticed are minor font or formatting problems, all of which we plan to resolve before release. 

This was by no means an exhaustive test of the two applications – it is expected that many other issues will need to be worked through before we support 2007.  The bottom line here is that the application appears to work well if you want to give us a shot.  Your mileage may vary, but if you try it out, please let us know what you find.  BTW, before you upgrade, see my post on mail file health.  In particular, we have found that if you carry over a mail file you created in Outlook XP or earlier, you may run into problems on Outlook 2003 and later.

ClearContext & Outlook 2007 – What Will It Do?

Outlook 2007 affords us the opportunity to tightly integrate all of our features into the application for a more seamless experience.  In Part II of this series I will post a thorough list of the features we are building for Outlook 2007.  This includes:

  • Context Menu (Right Click) Integration
  • Enhanced Category and Flags Support
  • Integrated RelatedView Dialog
  • Ribbon UI Implementation
  • Optimized Performance

…and much much more.  Have a great weekend and watch for more detail on our Outlook 2007 plans next week.

Channel 9 Video of Outlook 2007

Robert Scoble interviewed Jessica Arnold from the Outlook team and posted a demo of the new release on Channel 9.  It’s about 30 minutes long and gives a great overview of Outlook 2007’s new capabilities.  Robert even asks about ClearContext in it – THANKS ROBERT!

FYI – if you haven’t seen it yet, we’ve talked about some of our plans for the next release of Outlook in our latest product plan.  I will post some additional detail on our "Made for Office 2007" release after I get my hands on Beta 2 (due very soon, I think…)

ActiveWords Tips from Buzz

It’s always a pleasure to spend time with Buzz.  Check out his latest post for tips on automating the ClearContext Defer function using ActiveWords.  We had a tough time finding available keyboard shortcuts when we released v2, so we added all CC Inbox functions to the ClearContext menu for easy keyboard access.   That, in turn, means you can script just about any CC action using ActiveWords.  Pretty cool stuff and a huge timesaver.

Outlook Performance and Mail File Health

Chris Pirillo’s post got me thinking about Outlook mail file health.  Yes, Outlook 2007’s plumbing is greatly enhanced and should provide better stability and performance over previous releases.  But using an old mail file in the new environment could propagate whatever baggage your PST file has from prior use, making it very difficult to realize the promised improvements.  Read on…

Tech savvy folks know that reinstalling an application can often fix quirky problems they are seeing.  Microsoft recognizes this as well and has built in a nifty "Detect and Repair" feature in the Office Help menu that basically reinstalls all Office applications.  This is a great place to start when you’re having troubles in Outlook.  But it usually only addresses half of the problem.

Even when starting with a squeaky clean install of Outlook, most people bring over their old mail file to the new setup.  Unfortunately, many Outlook issues can be traced to data problems rather than application problems.  Using your old, battle-worn personal folders file on a new setup can have a crippling effect on Outlook.  If your mail file is very large and/or you have repeatedly installed/unistalled certain add-ins (I won’t name names, but you know who you are) it is possible that your mail file is corrupted.  If you’re seeing quirky issues in Outlook and Detect and Repair didn’t fix them, then it’s time to clean up your mail file.  Here’s what I recommend:

  1. Get your mail file size down.  Outlook XP and earlier have a file size limit of 2GB.  Outlook 2003’s limit is 20GB.  That said, I recommend that you keep your working mail file smaller than 1GB.  As your mail file size grows, performance slows.  Outlook has AutoArchiving functionality, but I just periodically run File > Archive and archive my mail to a separate PST file by date.  When the dated archive file gets to about 750 MB (large enough to fill a CD) I back it up and start a new archive file.  All of these archive files are loaded in my Outlook profile (File > Open > Outlook Data File) and are indexed by my desktop search program for easy reference.
  2. Compact your mail file (particularly after an archive).  Right click the root of the file in your folder list.  Select Properties > Advanced and click Compact Now.  This will clear out any excess space created in your PST from the deletion/movement of messages.
  3. Run SCANPST.EXE against your file.  Outlook installs with a utility to analyze and repair your mail file.  Slipstick has a great writeup on this utlity, along with instructions for its useSCANPST may be exactly what the doctor ordered when Outlook is feeling under the weather.
  4. Finally, if the above don’t help, it is possible that your mail file is hopelessly corrupted.  In this case, it’s time to start with a fresh new mail file.  The easiest way to do this is to create a new Outlook profile via Control Panel > Mail.  Once you get Outlook running on the new profile, you can add your old mail file as a separate data file (File > Open > Outlook Data File – it’s likely called outlook.pst in the default drectory) and still have access to your data.  Alternatively, if you absolutely need your old data in this new file, use File > Import & Export to import all or a subset of your old messages into the new file.

I hope this helps.  A little care and maintenance can have a huge impact on Outlook’s performance.  If you’d like more detail on any of the above, please let me know.