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5 tools to end your love-hate relationship with email

If you’re like most people, you have something of a love-hate relationship with email.

Email is simple, quick and easy. You type a contact’s email address, press a button, and seconds later that person’s got your message. Over the past ten or so years, we’ve come to think of email as indispensable.

Yet email can also a frustrating, time-consuming distraction. Junk email may cram your inbox. Managing email between your work computer, your home computer, and another device, like a Blackberry or iPhone, can lead to snafus. And the ease of sending email means there’s a lot of it. You stare at your ever-expanding inbox, and you want to cry (or just dump messages in the trash).

Enter the world of email add-ons, a motley hodgepodge of tools and services aiming to tame email for you. They will quash spam (or so they say). They will help you focus on important messages (or so they say). They will do lots of things for you, yet whether these tools actually save you time, or just pile on extra features, some of them useful, is an open question. Certainly you want to use these add-ons (also called plug-ins or extensions) sparingly, choosing those appropriate for your own way of working (and your specific browser or email program).

Here is a selection of popular or interesting email add-ons:

  1. Xobni
    A weird name, yes, until you realize it’s just “inbox” spelled backwards. The software, currently in a “beta” test phase, is designed for Microsoft Outlook. Like a lot of other add-ons, Xobni starts with a no-brainer proposition: Your email inbox is flooded, and you need help. The first sentence of a recent company press release claims the software “solves the growing email overload problem.” And what’s the solution? Xobni brings a social networking take to email by letting you track your email contacts and your communication with them. When a new email arrives, for instance, Xobni provides quick access to that contact’s past conversations with you, as well as attachments and assorted statistics about your relationship with the contact.
  2. Better Gmail 2
    For users of Google’s Gmail service, here’s a collection of enhancements for Gmail, like being able to see icons for different attachment types or to scan recent conversations with your contacts. You can find Better Gmail 2 by visiting the Firefox add-ons site (at If you’re using an older version of Gmail, you will need Better Gmail (without the “2”).
  3. Boxbe
    Boxbe is an alternative anti-spam solution in the form of what it calls an always-evolving “email guest list.” The service analyzes your email folders and address book in order to compile a list of your bona-fide contacts. Guest list in hand, Boxbe automatically color-codes messages from green (as in a green light) to red (caution) to help you read what matters. Boxbe works with Yahoo! Mail and Outlook.
  4. Yahoo! Mail Notifier
    This add-on serves a simple purpose: In tandem with the Firefox web browser, it notifies you, via the browser, when you have new Yahoo! Mail messages.
  5. MiniMail
    Let’s face facts: Even if you’re trying to control email, you’re still going to multitask. MiniMail, for Apple Mail, lets you do that by providing a small Mail window to preview incoming messages. Even better, it lets you reply to messages or mark them as spam right from its diminutive window. Even if you can’t cut down on your email habit, at least you can, with MiniMail, have it take up less of your screen space.


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