Nelson Email Organizer (NEO) Pro v3

Reviewed by: Mark Goldstein, August 2004, send e-mail
Published by: Caelo Software Inc., go to the web site
Requires: Microsoft Outlook 97, 98, 2000, 2002(XP) or 2003, using Windows 95, 98, Me, NT, 2000 or XP, with or without Exchange Server (v5.5 SP3 and above, Exchange 2000 Server SP2 and above and Exchange 2003 Server)
MSRP: US$69.95 (single new license), $20.00-$50.00 (upgrade, depending on your current version)

Nelson Email Organizer (NEO Pro) is designed for people who deal with lots and lots of e-mail. Are you running a busy SOHO, small business, or a department at a school? Are you a corporate e-mail loon, deluged by messages from hundreds of correspondents? Do you need instant access to all of your message stores and Outlook archives at the same time? If so, NEO Pro is an efficient, well-integrated tool which runs on top of Outlook and automatically & intuitively organizes your e-mail into clear and logical groupings and views, while providing all the usual Outlook send/receive, compose, reply, forward, address book and tools functions.

Many people prefer to keep their all of their messages, just in case. In fact, with enormous, inexpensive hard drives available for so long now, storage space for archived messages is easy to come by, so there's no reason to delete everything. Many companies actually now require employees to back up and store their e-mail. Finding messages quickly is paramount therefore in any environment in which huge volumes of e-mail actually prevent fast searches and access within Outlook or Exchange Server. At home and in business, time is money and effective e-mail management should ideally play a crucial role in creating more time for productivity rather than eating into productive time.

Anything that replaces Outlook (or in the case of NEO, integrates with Outlook data), had better resolve some of Outlook's inherent problems. One of the main problems with the ubiquitous Outlook is that finding an e-mail that came in as recently as last week can be a painful and time-consuming task. Finding a message from 2 years ago may be frustratingly impossible. Outlook 2003 is certainly better than previous versions, but the laborious task of hand sorting mail into manually created individual category folders, limited indexing (and resulting slow searches), limited views of the message store, lack of transparent access to archived e-mail and a dozen other problems make Outlook an inefficient choice for dealing with large volumes of e-mail.

NEO on the other hand, places controls up front—particularly those for calling up different views of your message store—rather than following Outlook's example of burying these controls inside nested dialogs. NEO's various message views are available from the main toolbar with a single click. While Outlook's biggest problem is that it only lets you look at your messages one way at a time, NEO counters that bottleneck with something called Unified Message Stores which allows you to transparently search across categories and views at breakneck speed, categorize and view any messages, at any time. On top of that, NEO automatically presents your mail organized for you according to the different ways in which you need to see your messages: Hot view (which contains the newest mail; you can actually make anything you want visible in Hot); Correspondents view (automatically displays all available e-mail according to correspondent and included both sent and received items); Bulk Mail view (can include newsletters, info circulars or anything else); Category view (all your e-mail sorted according to preset categories and/or categories you customize); Status view; Date view; Attachment view. The unique thing about NEO is that any message can appear in dozens of different categories and any or all of the views without having to copy it to various folders. You can't do that with Outlook!

As mentioned above, doing searches in Outlook can be laborious and frustrating. Finding a particular message within a category folder containing a thousand items takes a long time. It's certainly okay to create more category folders of course in order to reduce search times, but there are two problems with that: a) you have to physically create all those individual folders and remember to manually sort your mail into them (unless you manually create new Outlook message Rules, which are guaranteed to work all the time), and b) you still have to search each folder individually. NEO solves the problem again by being designed to look at your entire message store (Outlook archives included!) which means that searches always respect only the filters you use rather than being blocked by the boundaries of a folder. The search power in NEO Pro is quite amazing—we were able to find archived messages from 1997 in just a few seconds from a store of over 40,000 items. Once again Outlook falls down because the moment you create a message folder, you essentially cut off all the messages in that folder from access to searches until you actually go into the folder. You can search all folders at once in Outlook of course, but before doing so you have to manually select and check every folder, a ridiculous bit of labor in a dialog that doesn't even have a Select All function! What on earth is Microsoft thinking about? As well in Outlook you can't view your message in any other context unless you go to the View menu and dig around to select from one of the many choices. It's an ungainly way to deal with the mountains of e-mail many of us receive. Outlook 2003 (the best version so far) goes some way toward emulating NEO's approach to e-mail organization and searching, but NEO is by far the champ.

Lest you think that Outlook and NEO are mutually exclusive, let's correct the relationship between the two. First and foremost, Outlook is more than just an e-mail and contact management program. Outlook's underlying technologies are extremely powerful and are fully accessible to members of the Microsoft's Independent Software Vendor program. Caelo Software is a full member of the program and as such takes full advantage of the ability to integrate deeply with Outlook. NEO hooks into Outlook to extend the depth and functionality of both pieces of software. At the end of the day, it's all good because end users benefit from NEO's brilliant approach to information organization. On top of all that, if you choose to use it you'll find Outlook continues to work normally and remains up to date with messages and addresses. The bottom line is that once you become familiar with NEO, you'll never need to launch Outlook again. Even if you preview and cull your e-mail (with MailWasher for example) prior to downloading it, launch NEO afterward instead of Outlook to send/receive, reply, forward and so on. NEO uses all of Outlook's underlying basic e-mail functions to understand your accounts, existing messages and so on.

NEO installed without problems on a busy workstation in our office. We ran Mailwasher Pro to filter out the garbage in the nine e-mail accounts we check from that workstation, then ran NEO. The program automatically sorted the message store according to the default views and I then went about customizing the configuration. Installing NEO, customizing and adding master categories and sub-categories, sorting my current message store of approximately 3,500 items, and viewing eight of the NEO tutorials took a total of one hour. At the end of that hour, I was confident enough to use the new version of NEO full time and I haven't looked back since.

Cons: Minor gripes only. The program is best used only after you've viewed some or all of the excellent online, narrated, video capture-style tutorials. The help system built into the software is, surprisingly, only so-so which makes it doubly important to avoid frustration by thoroughly check out the tutorials first. You won't be sorry. NEO performs accurate, lightning fast searches because of its automatic indexing functionality so it's probably wise (especially if you live inside your e-mail) to lower the indexing interval to something other than the default 240 minutes. One of the NEO users in our office—a person who handles upwards of 80 legitimate e-mails per day—recommends 60 minutes as the indexing interval.

Pros: We love NEO's Active Mail area because you can remove messages from Active Mail after you've dealt with them, but without having to manually move or delete them. Neatly handles any spam and bulk mail which manages to sneak past Mailwasher (or whatever other antispam software you're using) in addition to distinguishing it from regular bulk mail subscriptions. Conversations/threads are treated logically and freely and, unlike Outlook's Related Messages feature, shows a conversation directly in the list pane of the user interface. NEO's greatest strength for high volume e-mail is its views, categories, filtering and searches. Even in message stores containing tens of thousands of items and multiple Outlook archives, filtering and searches take only seconds to complete. You can also narrow searches progressively—start with a wide net and gradually narrow your focus without having to re-search—simply by adding or removing search criteria or changing filter details. NEO's greatest assets for day-to-day e-mail handling are the Hot View mode and Active Mail feature. Being able to assign any message to multiple categories or see it in multiple views without having to physically copy it to individual folders is a stunning breath of fresh air. NEO's Hot View is brilliant because it provides you with the means to keep any number of different things front and center no matter how old, how new or how different (messages, attachments, To-Do's and so on). Caelo Software has created an excellent set of well-written, clearly narrated video capture tutorials which are clear, concise and cover every major area of NEO. We can't say enough about NEO. Highly recommended.

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