Microsoft Outlook Is Starting To Look Like A Poor Man's Xobni

As we first reported on Friday, Microsoft is adding some social hooks into Outlook 2010. Outlook will gain the ability to pull in profile information, photos, and update streams from LinkedIn, Facebook, and MySpace. You can try the LinkedIn plugin now in beta. The other social networks will be added later when Outlook 2010 goes on sale, probably in July.

The new social features make it look a lot more like Xobni, the social email startup backed by Vinod Khosla that Microsoft looked at buying nearly two years ago. Well, a poor man’s Xobni. With Xobni, which itself is a plugin for Outlook, you can pull in relevant contact information, photos, and social stream data from both LinkedIn and Facebook today. It also supports Twitter, and Hoover’s information on companies. Salesforce integration is currently in beta, and SharePoint is coming soon.

The idea behind bringing social streams into Outlook is that as you are reading or composing an email, you can see recent status updates or pictures of the person you are corresponding with to give you some instant context. The Outlook plugins are built on top its “Social Connector,” and was previewed last year. The Social Connector was really created for Microsoft SharePoint, which supports corporate profiles and file sharing. Getting the major social networks to write their own plugins directly for the Social Connector means that Outlook can support additional social streams down the road.

The bigger issue is that the Social Connector will only work on Outlook 2010, whereas Xobni works on every version going back to Outlook 2003. Correction: Social Connector works with past versions of Outlook as well. Companies tend to replace Outlook at a glacial pace, but it is clear that Microsoft is trying to make Xobni a feature of Outlook. And it only took two years to announce. And even now, many of the comments on Microsot’s blog post are complaining that the beta is crashing their computers. Some examples:

SocialConnector.dll crashes my 32-bit Outlook 2010 beta on Win 7 64 bit.

After installing this, Outlook will no longer start up. I’ve have removed the connector, but it still crashes outlook, not the computer. I’m using 64bit Win 7 Ultimate, with 32bit Office 2010.

Xobni could still be doomed, but it does have a few things going for it. The plugin has been downloaded more than 4 million times, its users are rabidly loyal, and the company will eventually expand to other email systems beyond Outlook. It also does email search a lot better (at least right now) than Outlook and can resolve different identities to the same person in your contacts list.

Most people don’t sign up for Facebook or even LinkedIn with their corporate Outlook email accounts. If the email addresses of your contacts in Outlook don’t match their email on LinkedIn, Facebook, or MySpace, you won’t be able to see their profile information or stream data using the Outlook Social Connector. Xobni does a better job resolving the multiple identities people choose to have on the Internet. That doesn’t mean the folks at Xobni should be breathing easy. Microsoft has endless patience and eventually it gets things right.

Update: Brad Feld finds another flaw with the LinkedIn Outlook plugin—it duplicates his contacts