A while ago, Marc posted a nice review of the Bells & Whistles addin for Outlook over at the Office Weblog. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to use it myself, and I’ve got to say, I really like it.
My impression of Marc is that he’s a total Outlook power user. I’m not so much. For me, Outlook does my corporate email, synchronizes my calendar with my Palm, and offers some public folders for internal communcation. That’s pretty much it. I used to use Outlook in a more novel way (see here), but it took a while to set up and then I got a new PC at work, and entropy set in. Prior to trying Bells & Whistles, the only geegaws I had with my Outlook were Lookout and SpamBayes. I’ve been happy with both of those.
Though I generally have a "‘satiable curtiosity" about new software stuff, I have an equally enthusiastic reluctance to embark upon a new learning curve–especially when it involves two pieces of software interacting with each other. Outlook can be pretty complex and I definitely don’t understand all of it’s intracacies, so I’m always a bit uneasy with Outlook addins. Fortunately for me, Bells & Whistles is just pure simplicity to understand. It’s a breeze to install and you don’t really need to read the manual to understand what it offers.
Because my Outlook runs on an Exchange server at work, which is configured in a way that is beyond my ability to grasp, some of the functionality of Bells & Whistles is unavailable to me. Mainly, this is the ability of Bells & Whistles to access nicknames for your contacts. Seems simple enough, but apparently it’s not in the cards for me. No matter. There is plenty of other stuff that makes the program compelling.
My favorite bit is the ability to customize your reply messages. I’ve got Bells & Whistles set up so that all my replies are sent in plain-text format, and the first name of the person I’m replying to is auto-populated at the top of my reply. I can even customize the characters that follow the name. Lots of folks use a simple comma or colon after the name, but I prefer two dashes and Bells & Whistles can accomodate me. As Marc notes, this little thing alone saves me dozens of keystrokes per day.
Another option that I’ve really appreciated, and never really thought about before, is Bells & Whistles’ ability to convert bcc recipients to single ‘to’ recipients. This is a little funky, so let me explain further. You know how sometimes you have a mailing list of people that you want to send a note to, but you either don’t want to clutter the message with all the addresses, or you don’t want them all to know who else is on the list? Well, Bells & Whistles will let you stick all your recipients into the ‘bcc’ field, and when you send your message, it automagically converts each bcc into it’s own single message, addressed only to each recipient. It’s a super cool trick and a huge timesaver!