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Saturday, July 6, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Inbox / Charles Bermant

Outlook getting out of hand? Try Nelson to organize e-mail

When Nelson Email Organizer, an add-in that expanded the capabilities of Microsoft Outlook, arrived two years ago, its days seemed and were numbered. Its ability to organize and search messages was unprecedented, and these features were certain to appear in the next version of Outlook. The company certainly appeared on several "most likely to be acquired" lists.

It didn't happen. The next version of Outlook appeared with more of the same, but included nothing that incorporated Nelson's strengths. And with the new version of Nelson, rechristened "NEO," the product has developed its own identity outside of Outlook.

NEO's organizational abilities are legion. You can sort by name, date, status or attachment. Sorting by name shows you all mail sent to and received from a particular correspondent. A folder holds everything sent from a bulk mail server, which acts as a pretty capable spam filter — although you'll need to check it regularly for any electronic subscriptions.

NEO's real utility originates from its ability to search across folders and immediately pull up any textual reference. With Outlook, you need to know where something is before you start looking.

The new version jazzes up the interface. The most startling aspect has always been its use of tabs, and this is spiffed up as well. Unfortunately you can't create your own categories. There is, however, one truly cool new feature: A "Caller ID" module pops up a little text box and tells who has just sent you a message.

My favorite NEO feature: The ability to designate a correspondent as "Hot." Here, you have all the mail from the people designated as important in a single place.

Nelson is a big-gun solution for people who have too many messages and need a way to find the important ones. Many people live and breathe Outlook, and say that it is good enough. But it can be better.

Nelson is available in a free trial download version from www.caelo.com. A fully licensed version costs $30.

Keeping spam: Every spam solution makes the user work. It seems the best they can do is put all the offensive mail in a single place (like NEO's bulk-mail folder) for us to filter through. This is supposed to be easier, because the wheat isn't mixed up with the chaff.

But this approach may be too careful. To evoke another cliché, it may be necessary to throw out part of the baby with the bathwater. Many of us would rather lose something that may be important than spend hours trying to tell the difference.

Contact Charles Bermant at cbermant@seattletimes.com. Type Inbox in the subject field. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.

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