Nov
16

Save time spent on writing your email. Use Outlook text templates

Today I suggest you trying to look at the world with the eyes of those who spend most of their work time on e-mail correspondence using Microsoft Outlook. If this occupation tends to encroach on your spare time, then this review well be even of more help.

It’s no secret that our behavioral models are based, to a certain extent, on some rigid scenarios and schemes. The same is true for the work sphere. The very notion of “a round of duties” implies this. As to e-mail correspondence, it largely consists of a given number of template messages (for instance, notification, special offer, follow up, etc.) which if not cover all possible situations, then for sure constitute a significant part of our daily routine.

Undoubtedly, it’s not the best way out to write over and over again the same e-mail messages with tiny differences. The add-ins from this review will help you quickly create, manage and use templates for most frequent tasks in your e-mail correspondence. All the plug-ins have trial versions, which is great because we can try them and not just rely on information from the vendors’ web-sites.

So, let the main criteria for assessment be the utmost simplicity and visualization in using templates and comfort in managing a set of templates.

Add-in Version Developer Price Supports
Replywith 1.0 4Team Corporation $19.95 Microsoft Outlook 2000, 2002/XP, 2003
Quick Templates for Outlook 1.3 MAPILab $24 Microsoft Outlook 2000, 2002/XP, 2003, 2007
Template Phrases for Outlook 1.3 Ablebits $29.95 Microsoft Outlook 2000, 2002/XP, 2003, 2007
InsertText 4Outlook 2.0 Addins4Outlook $19.95 Microsoft Outlook 2000, 2002/XP, 2003
Potolook 5.0 Positic $39.95 Microsoft Outlook 2002/XP, 2003, 2007

ReplyWith from 4Team Corporation

Supports:

  • Microsoft Outlook 2000, 2002 (XP), 2003, 2007.
  • Microsoft Windows 2000, XP, 2003, Vista.

ReplyWith web-site

First thing that attracts our attention during the add-in installation is the possibility to choose whether to install the add-in for all or only for the current user account:

ReplyWith: Customer Information

Besides the option above, the installation process will not require your attention at all. In a few seconds after the start of the installation wizard, you will be able to form your own opinion of ReplyWith.

You will be sure at once that the add-in installed correctly. On running Microsoft Outlook, you will be prompted to name the add-in work folder (by default it is named ReplyWith templates). Later on, you will be able to simply drag-and-drop messages there or use Copy/Paste. All templates created by you will be stored in this folder.

ReplyWith: Outlook folders tree

In addition, you can create any number of subfolders for storing your templates sorted by subjects.

The add-in buttons are placed directly on the Outlook toolbar. In fact, they are modifications of standard Reply and Forward with subtle differences. The ReplyWith icons have little red plus signs right to the arrows that, in developers’ opinion, probably signify the advanced functionality. As you can see in the screenshot below, now we have two Reply and two Forward icons. In my opinion, two buttons that look almost the same may cause confusion to the user. A better way would be to have a separate ReplyWith toolbar with its buttons.

It should be noted that in view of clarity and comfort of use, the ReplyWith interface is almost perfect.

ReplyWith: Add-in buttons

The remaining options of ReplyWith are in the New menu item. There are two of them: New template, and Post in this folder.

You create new templates using the Post in this folder option:

ReplyWith: Post in This Folder option

In case you wish to reply to a message or forward it using some template from your collection, just click on the appropriate button (Reply with or Forward with). After that you will be able to select a desired template:

ReplyWith: Select template

So, a new message will be created based on the selected template. The template editor as such is not available and you create templates just in the same way as you create usual messages.

Quick Templates for Outlook from MAPILab Ltd.

Supports:

  • Microsoft Outlook 2000, 2002 (XP), 2003, 2007.
  • Microsoft Windows 2000, XP, 2003, Vista.

Quick Templates for Outlook page

This time the MAPILab add-in supports two languages of the user interface: English and German. Notwithstanding the fact that the installation of Quick Templates for Outlook starts with selecting the language, it can be easily changed later on with a couple of clicks without reinstalling the add-in.

Quick Templates: Select installation language
Upon deciding on the language, let’s proceed to the installation.

Quick Templates: Setup wizard

Choose the installation type: for all users or for the current user account.
Quick Templates: Customer Information

A few seconds of waiting and the add-in is installed. You are greeted by the welcome screen (in my case, it welcomed me in German for some unknown reason), and suggested selecting the user interface again.

The next window gives a brief description of what the Quick Templates for Outlook add-in is purposed to, namely to quickly insert text templates into Outlook e-mail messages.
Quick Templates: Add-in wizard

Trial version limitations allow you to use the add-in during 20 days and create up to 10 templates only.

And here is my favorite Program Location window.

Quick Templates: Program location window

In case you use MS Word as the e-mail editor, you will see there the same Quick Templates for Outlook toolbar.
Quick Templates: Add-in location window

As you can see in the screenshot above, the add-in can be accessed from a new (untitled) message. To put it simply, every time you create a new message (e.g. replying to an e-mail or forwarding it) you immediately get access to your templates. In case you haven’t created any, it’s the right time to add one:

Quick Templates: Add new template button

The procedure is as follows: you write a desired text or a phrase in the message body and save it as a template. If you click on the Add button while having a blank message body, you will see the following message:
Quick Templates: Add-in tip

After that you are taken to a special form for creating a new template:
Quick Templates: New template form

No superfluities are provided, your stretch of imagination is limited by the functionality accessible by clicking on the Font button:
Quick Templates: Font options

The Edit button, as obvious from its name, enables you to edit existing templates. If you still don’t have any, you can add one by clicking on the Add Blank button:
Quick Templates: Adding new template

I personally don’t think that such a solution is the best one. If the Add button doesn’t raise any questions (it creates a new template), but for editing which is accessible by clicking on the Edit button I would prefer to see the template manager in which I could see the content of my template, add, change of remove some part of it.

As to the behavior of the New Template form, it is far from being clear and explicit. You can choose your templates using the Select Template drop-down list:
Quick Templates: Available templates list

The customary Save button is not seen anywhere.
So, in order to create a new template, you have to click Add Blank, then give it a name using the Name field and click OK. For me such an interface is not familiar and user-friendly.

The Copy button creates a clone of the current template by adding a number to its name.
Quick Templates: Copy option demonstration

Frankly speaking this is the first add-in from MAPILab that openly disappointed me. It’s hard to imagine such messy and poorly organized work with Outlook text templates. As for creating mail messages based on templates, this part, though quite laconic, is fine. The flexibility of work and template management, however, leaves much to be desired.

Template Phrases for Microsoft Outlook from AbleBits

Supports:

  • Microsoft Outlook 2000, 2002 (XP), 2003, 2007.
  • Microsoft Windows 2000, XP, 2003, Vista.

Template Phrases for Outlook web-site

I cannot recall a case when the installation of AbleBits plug-ins cause any difficulties or troubles. They always install and start working at once. The Template Phrases is installed for the current user account only. To my mind, this is the right approach when it comes to e-mail correspondence, because your templates may contain some data not intended to be seen by others. If you use the Template Phrases this problem does not exist: all templates are available only for one person.

At Outlook start up, the first thing you see is the welcome screen that will tell you the version number, your license type and a contact link.

Template Phrases: About add-in

Then a built-in help system abound with screenshots gets opened automatically. First of all you see the appearance and location of the Template Phrases toolbar. Should any questions arise, you can look at the appropriate help section for the answer. An undoubted advantage of such approach is that it makes all sorts of welcome screens unneeded.

Template Phrases: Help system window

Now let’s go on to the add-in interface. On opening a new e-mail, you see the add-in’s pane:

Template Phrases: add-in pane

I’d like to draw your attention to two wonderful things. First is a smart add-in’s pane that can be placed either to the left or right of the screen in a click. That is, you can always see your current message and at the same time you can see the templates tree. At that, the Template Phrases plug-in does not impede your work with the message, you do not become confused with all those windows and tabs and comfortably do you work.

Let’s go on. The Paste button places a selected template into the message body.
Template Phrases: Paste template button

The History button shows you a list of the last used eight templates.

Template Phrases: Last used templates

Next two buttons are purposed for creating a new template and a new folder respectively.

Template Phrases: Add new template button

And here is the form for creating a new template.
Template Phrases: Feel free with keywords

Shortcuts on the screenshot above allow you to quickly paste the desired template into the message. You just assign a given shortcut to a given template and then insert in into the message with a keystroke.
Now let’s turn to the Insert Macro button.
Template Phrases: Macros list

Using this button, you can insert several macros into your template and later on when the template is inserted into the message, these macros will be substituted with real data.

For example, inserting the ~%ATTACHFILE= macro into your template and specifying the location of the file, you can automatically send out the most current version of your price-list to your customers.

The next button allows you to edit a selected template.

Template Phrases: Edit template button

The process of template editing is absolutely the same as editing an Outlook e-mail message. The Cross button deletes a selected template or a folder.
Template Phrases: Delete template button

The next button (with a dark blue arrow in the middle) changes the location of the Template Phrases pane, by placing it to the left or right side of the screen.

And finally, the last two buttons on the Template Phrases toolbar import and export all your templates from / into a file. Using this option you can back up your template phrases or create a master file and share it with your colleagues.
Template Phrases: Import from XML

It’s hard to overestimate the advantages of this option when it comes to keeping a uniform style of your Outlook e-mail correspondence.

Summing up, I can say that the only thing this plug-in lacks to be considered absolutely perfect is a flexible and easy to use system of rules. Of course, it is beyond the framework of necessary and sufficient, but still there are no limits for imagination :-)

If to draw away from such fantasies, in terms of usability the Template Phrases for Outlook is the best plug-in out of many I’ve worked with. It’s a pity that so small percentage of developers besides functionality also think about comfortable and comprehensible ways of using it in practice. And it is all the more pleasant to find the plug-in that has managed to achieve such a balance.

InsertText 4Outlook from Addins4Outlook

Supports:

  • Microsoft Outlok 2000, 2002 (XP), 2003, 2007.
  • Microsoft Windows 2000, XP, 2003, Vista.

InsertText 4Outlook web-site

With regard to the installation of this add-in, the interesting thing is a tip given at the last window of the installation wizard about where to find InsertText 4Outlook in Outlook and how to start your work with it.

InsertText 4 Outlook: Setup information

After the installation is completed, the welcome screen tells about your current version and how many evaluation days are left.
InsertText 4 Outlook: Trial mode information

On opening Outlook, you are informed about the add-in having created a work folder in Personal Folders, in which it is going to save your templates and settings.

InsertText 4 Outlook: Add-in tip

What really pleased me is that the add-in provides three ready-to-use templates in the Insert Text folder.
InsertText 4 Outlook: Add-in folder

To make it easy to start with the add-in, the developers bring to your attention a small tour demonstrating the usage of templates in working with Outlook emails:
InsertText 4 Outlook: Wizard

InsertText 4 Outlook: Information window

The work with InsertText is intuitive and unpretentious to maximum extent. As soon as you create a new e-mail message, you see the InsertText button. A click on it takes you to the template manager where all looks like it should. Exactly as I wish it to be.

By clicking on Insert Text, you call the template manager where you can choose from existing templates or create a new one.

InsertText 4 Outlook: Templates manager
You create a new template just like you write a common Outlook message.

InsertText 4 Outlook: Sample message

Thus, with Insert Text we have an excellent Outlook plug-in not overburdened with any excesses with a nice bonus in the form of search.

Potolook from Positic Software

Supports:

  • Microsoft Outlook 2000, 2002 (XP), 2003, 2007.
  • Microsoft Windows 2000, XP, 2003, Vista.

Potolook web-site

Among all other Outlook plug-ins reviewed today, this one appears a true polyglot. See for yourself, among available languages are English, Russian, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish and Ukrainian. Also, the plug-in can be installed for the current user or for all users.

Potolook: Setup installation type

After the installation is completed, the Potolook Start Guide will open up in your browser (if your machine is connected to the Internet) that will provide you with a brief description of all main functions illustrated with screenshots. As to the plug-in’s abilities, they are not limited to working with mail message templates. The Potolook plug-in can also work as an attachment viewer and do automatic message processing.

The plug-in will offer you a tip of the day at every start of Microsoft Outlook. If you don’t need them, you can easily disable this option.

Potolook: Add-in hint

The Potolook menu is accessible by clicking on the P-Tools button.
Potolook: Add-in menu

Having a look at the Modules item, you can make sure that the developers were too humble in describing the functions in the Quick Start Guide. The plug-in is staffed with additional modules up to eyeballs.

The first menu item, Process message, can be customized to the user’s liking.

Potolook: Preferences window

However, a click on the Edit action button will open the following window:

Potolook: Edit Process with message action

So, it all is not so easy as it may seem. To work with Potolook, you will have to master the skills of writing such scripts.

In the Template Editor the situation is the same: only the message fields can be filled in intuitively, creating a full-value template will require some knowledge of HTML.
Potolook: Template editor

I suppose we’d better stop here and leave further acquaintance with this add-in for advanced users.

Putting an end to this review I can come up with the following conclusions: I am not too good at coding and have no desire to investigate intricate Potolook’s scenarios. Yes, it offers some super functionality, but for me it look like buying Lego building bricks instead of a house and a detailed instruction on how to assemble it.

ReplyWith is smart and fast, but it lacks advanced functions. Its interface leaves the impression of crudity, as if this plug-in were created and then abandoned. No doubts, the plug-in is fully operable and copes with its tasks, but we are trying to find the best tool, aren’t we?

As to Quick Templates for Outlook from MAPILab, I can frankly tell you that I am disappointed. After add-ins from this company have become a synonym of high quality and good usability, the Quick Templates for Outlook looks clumsy and absurd.

If to speak about the most balanced plug-ins (I mentioned the criteria at the beginning of the review) I would put InsertText 4Outlook and Template Phrases for Outlook from AbleBits into this category. Both of them have all necessary for comfortable work, but the Template Phrases plug-in offers more capabilities due to its excellent Template Manager, macros and keyboard shortcuts.

Add-in Replywith Quick Templates for Outlook InsertText 4Outlook Potolook Template Phrases for Outlook
Installation 4 of 5 4 of 5 4 of 5 4 of 5 4 of 5
Usability 3 of 5 2 of 5 4 of 5 2 of 5 5 of 5
Functionality 4 of 5 3 of 5 4 of 5 5 of 5 5 of 5
Total 3.6 3 4 3.6 4.6

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