Australian Financial Review

This baby gives sorting e-mail a brighter outlook

Friday September 15, 2000

by Peter Moon


We are drowning in a sea of e-mail, and for many of us, Microsoft Outlook is the instrument of our torture. Outlook simply dumps large volumes of e-mail into our laps, and in-trays that run to hundreds of entries are not rare.

It is true that one can filter messages into folders, but only one in 10 users has the time to master, implement and maintain the feature, so very few messages are actually filed in their own digital drawer.

Outlook offers some basic organisational tools. You can sort in-tray messages by date received, by sender name or by subject line but not by sender arranged in date order, or by subject grouped by sender. To the rescue comes Nelson Organizer, a front end for Outlook that imposes order on e-mail chaos. Basically, Organizer reindexes Outlook's message folders and presents them in more helpful views. There is no need to filter messages, or move them manually, because Organizer displays them as if all that has been done automatically.

The interface is a close copy of Outlook, but the left-hand panel does some very clever things. Click the correspondent tab and an alphabetical list of everyone you've corresponded with appears.

Select a name, and all mail to and from that person pops up on the right, as if you'd gone to the trouble of filtering it into many folders. Choose the date tab, and another set of virtual mail folders appears, this set affording one click access to mail that arrived today, yesterday, this week, last week, or any previous month.

It's a handy housekeeping tool to be able to delete a person's folder and with a single click erase all mail to or from them, wherever it is stored. To eliminate the risk of an unintended deletion, any message can be marked with a keep flag, and will not be deleted until the flag is removed.

Unlike Outlook, where a message exists only in one folder at a time unless you don't mind duplicating messages Organizer can show a message anywhere it likes. For example, if it came from the sales director, it shows up in their folder. But if it arrived last week, it appears in last week's folder, too, because this is a way of looking at e-mail, not a way of storing it.

Best of all is the Hot tab, where the folders to the left are selected by the user. Any folder can be marked as ``hot" with a right click. If you need to focus on today's e-mail only, make sure the folders of the people you need to hear from are ``hot" and switch to hot view. You'll find a calming, clear view that features only these items.

Hands On is very taken with the ``new since" folder, which isolates mail from a certain time. If you're depressed by the length of your in-tray, go for coffee and leave Organizer in the ``new since" view. When you return, you'll be faced by the two or three missives received while you were out, not the whole bulk of your in-box. The search tool beats Outlook hands down, especially since it can save searches for repeating later on.

You can happily spend all day in Organizer and Outlook need never be opened at least if you don't need to access shared or public folders. You'll also need to switch to Outlook for non e-mail features but the two cohabit and synchronise cosily, so that's a small penalty to pay. If you do need to reach Outlook, it's a click away on the Organizer toolbar.

Nelson Organizer is available for trial or online purchase for $US29.95 ($53.50) from

Peter Moon is IT Special Counsel in the Melbourne legal firm Jerrard & Stuk. Feedback to