Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Outlook on Steroids - Xobni & ClearContext

The first part in this series I reflected upon on well I leverage Outlook and that I have just started using Xobni & ClearContext to make life easier handling email. Outlook supports "Profiles" - and I use that feature to keep my personal email inbox and mail separate from my work email. On startup I have setup Outlook to prompt me for profiles.

I have been successful to run both Xobni & ClearContext plug-ins simultaneously and so far they are behaving well. Although now Outlook is slower when starting up...

ClearContext is a big help in order to control the size of mailbox with the "Topic" and filing feature. As mail comes in I can assign topics, and once a Topic is assigned any future email on that thread is very easy to file. I can click on File Message or File Thread and the messages are moved to the appropriate folders that you had set up. What is really special is that I can setup the folders to be my PST files - and hence allowing me to archive emails based on the threads that I want to preserve.

The major downside I have with ClearContext is that it does not support multiple profiles. I avoid using the ClearContext features when I am running it in Personal profile and I have to undo the auto-topic assign feature that I use extensively on the work profile.

Overall the free version of ClearContext, which is free, adds tremendous value to manage my emails.

The Xobni plug-in supports multiple profiles. Xobni has a really cool feature not available in ClearContext - in its sidebar shows how is the sender of the email connected to you on social networks such as LinkedIn and Facebook. I am not on Facebook (so far), but I have connected with several of colleagues and professional contacts on LinkedIn because of Xobni. When I receive an email it will show if the sender is on LinkedIn or not, and if on LinkedIn how is she connected to me. Within the sidebar they have a "Add" button which when clicked will launch to open LinkedIn in your web browser and allow you send an invite to connect with the sender.

Net-net it has made my Outlook experience richer and I would recommend the free versions of the plug-ins to achieve the following:

1. Keep the Inbox uncluttered and organized using "Topic" functionality in ClearContext
2. Keep track of two of the most popular Social Networks - LinkedIn & Facebook using the functionality in Xobni.

PS: One annoying thing that I have discovered about Xobni is that it keeps "modifying" the Contacts in my address book - not the content but it appears that it is 'touching' the contacts so if you sort them in using the "Modified" field you will see that the last email from any contact appears to be modified ...

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Product Design: GPS & Car Mounts

Designing good products goes beyond simply introducing products in a hot category. Last couple of years GPS were high growth category initially made popular by the likes of Garmin, TomTom, and Magellan. The lure of high growth led the likes of HarmonKardon (HK) to introduce their own GPS devices.

One of our family friends traded their HK GPS for our Garmin Nuvi 270 before they headed out to Europe (the 270 has European maps built-in). I had a chance to use it - the unit is a lot fancier then the 270 but fancy does not equate to functional :-)

Here are my observations:

1. GPS add on units for cars typically comprise of a mounting device, the adaptor that is used to power the GPS unit and the GPS device itself. Add On GPS Units need to have very effective car mounts - most of them are "suction type" with a lock down lever. The lock down lever is a must because it helps create suction and hence the ability to adhere to the mount point. The picture below shows three components:

2. Once the suction mount is in place on the car windshield - a ball & socket joint is used to attach the GPS unit to the mount. A good joint that can withstand bumps and standard wear & tear is necessary. GPS units has a mechanical adapter with the "socket" - this adapter to the GPS Unit. Now you can plug in the GPS on the suction mount. Here is a how it mounts to the windshield of the car:

Having weak suction could lead to the GPS unit to fall as the mount falls off and I have seen several examples of that. The suction on the HK GPS car mount was pretty good, but take a look at the next shot:

As you may observe the GPS is drooping and I could never get it to prop up. And even though the HK GPS is loaded with features, I could not really use them. In fact the unit dropped while I was driving! It was obvious that the ball & socket joint was not solid enough to hold the unit well.

After I came back home I took a look at what was causing the problem, here is a pictures of the adaptor that connects the GPS unit to the mount, observe the cracks around the socket:

Now, in all fairness, the HK unit may have been dropped or bumped causing the damage. But the possibility remains that the design of the ball & socket joint especially on the adaptor would have not be done well - in this case may the material was not picked well (the right chemical composition?) or it was not designed to take the weight of the unit (this HK GPS is certainly heavier then the Nuvi 270). I don't know the reason but it does highlight that designing products well requires more than adding features!