Microsoft Outlook's default search functionality sucks.
October 11, 2012 9:16 AM   Subscribe

Please share your recommendations for the best Outlook e-mail/desktop indexer search tools out there.

I'm looking for an Outlook plugin or a desktop indexer that can 1.) run fast full-text searches of the e-mail in multiple Outlook .pst files that total about 20GB (including the text of all attachments) and 2.) is capable of handling complex boolean searches. The indexers I've looked at so far are Xobni, Lookeen, and X1 Professional Client. I have no problem with buying a license if the indexer is worth it, but I'd really like to avoid yet another product that's only available via subscription (e.g, Xobni), if at all possible. If you use Outlook and are constantly running searches for e-mails that you know are "out there somewhere", I'd love to hear about your experiences with third-party indexers/search tools.
posted by longdaysjourney to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
how much front end etc do you need/want ? How automated or manual do you want the indexing ? (ie is this a fixed set, or are you always adding more documents to the PSTs that need indexing ? ) What are the attachment formats (text, doc, pdf, ...) ? Do you want to buy something/download a tool, or are you capable of writing some integration software ?
posted by k5.user at 9:23 AM on October 11, 2012

Response by poster: Automated indexing, preferably background, so I can use Outlook while it's indexing.

I keep Outlook open all day long so messages/attachments need to be indexed as soon as they arrive (preferably).

Attachment formats: all the Microsoft Office formats (ppt, pptx, doc, docx, etc.) and pdfs.

Sorry, not sure what you mean by front end in this context (usability?).

I need to buy something/download a tool and I have zero ability to write any software/scripting.
posted by longdaysjourney at 9:32 AM on October 11, 2012

Ah, ok, then probably can't help you for an off-the-shelf answer.

I've used things like Lucene and Poi - java tools that do indexing and can read office files, but don't know if there's a wrapped up "nice" solution, just that with those tools one can do what you want.

Front end -- what's the GUI/how do you want to search and/or see the search results (or is it integrated into outlook)- you've got the right idea.
posted by k5.user at 10:15 AM on October 11, 2012

Response by poster: Appreciate your response, k5.user. I should have been more explicit in my question that I was looking for a client solution for someone who doesn't have the technical ability (or permissions, probably) to roll their own.

Re Front-End. I've only looked at (but not tried), X-1, Xobni, and Lookeen. X-1 looks like you access it outside of Outlook, Xobni is an Outlook sidebar (although the more I've looked at what they have on their website, the less I think I'm going to end up with their product, since their search seems to be based upon whom you're sending e-mail too, not the contents of the e-mail) and Lookeen is a toolbar. Honestly, as long as it's fast, and can run full-text searches of attachments and email text, and I can structure complex searches and use wildcards, I have no problem about using the indexer outside of Outlook.

I ran some Google searches before I posted this question. Lifehacker's last post on this topic is a few years old and I didn't see anything that really did a good job of comparing the various indexers out there.
posted by longdaysjourney at 10:48 AM on October 11, 2012

If you're running Windows 7, the search bar that shows up in the start menu can also be configured to search your outlook stores. On my machine, out of the box, it only searches email text and not attachments - but there may be plugins to extend that functionality instead of using a standalone desktop search tool.

I don't know the current state of affairs with regard to standalone desktop search tools - but back in my XP days I used the Google Desktop tool. It was designed to be a local indexer and was a platform for desktop widgets. It would in fact index the text in office files, PDFs, and Outlook PST mailboxes, including attachments.

I believe it's now end-of-life so you'd have to find a comparable tool - but my point is that with desktop search tools you can typically change the indexing settings to only focus on the PST file if you are only concerned with local search of email and attachments, and not your documents folder, desktop, etc.

If you prefer a tool that lives in Outlook, though, I have nothing for you that you haven't already looked at.
posted by trivia genius at 11:37 AM on October 11, 2012

I use Lookout, long since discontinued (think it was bought by Microsoft to integrate into their search), so only available on various sites of dubious legitimacy, just as a warning.

Available here, with instructions on 2007 compatbility:
posted by Boobus Tuber at 3:16 PM on October 11, 2012

I'm a little reluctant to post this response because it sounds like you're happy to continue using Outlook, but have you considered migrating from Outlook to Gmail? The search in Gmail is pretty damn good - it's one of the big benefits I've personally gotten out of migrating. Gmail does index attachments now - that's actually a fairly new feature.

If you're using the non-free versions of Google Apps, you can import PST files using the Google Apps Migration for Microsoft Outlook tool. If you're using free Gmail or Google Apps, you can transfer messages via IMAP.
posted by me & my monkey at 4:57 PM on October 11, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks, Boobus Tuber. Had no idea Lookout ever existed. Doesn't sound like MS ever integrated it into their search tool in Outlook 2010, since it's still slow and it's really hard to structure any sort of complex search. I intend to install the indexer on my work desktop and my firm's IS staff will probably revoke any of the permissions I have left if I try to install something that's not a "legit" product. I'll take a look at it for my home Outlook installation, though!

me & my monkey: I've thought about it for home use, but there are just too many drawbacks to Gmail for me to feel comfortable migrating from Outlook (it's in the cloud, I hate the new GUI, Google already knows too much about me). Outside of the absolutely dismal search it comes with, I actually like Outlook 2010 for the most part.

Thanks to everyone who responded to this thread. I think I'll go ahead and install the trials for X-1 and Lookeen and see which one works best for my purposes. If this Ask thread stays open long enough, I will post back with my impressions.
posted by longdaysjourney at 5:49 PM on October 11, 2012

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