Poor search is one of the many ways in which Outlook sucks. The native Search built into Outlook can only search one type of folder at a time (your inbox, personal folders, archives or public folders). It's also so slow I find it unusable.
A few years back I discovered a great Search plug-in for Outlook called LookOut. It was lightning fast and it not only searched all Outlook folders at once, but it even searched designated folders on my hard drive (e.g., the My Documents folder).
How fast was it? I did a search for the last name of a coworker and the code name of a project we're working on together. It took 3.06 seconds to find 128 documents containing both terms, including emails, meetings, spreadsheets, Word docs. The same search required me to open Advanced Search in Outlook (otherwise it searches subject lines only), only allowed me to search my personal folders, took several minutes and turned up only 39 items. I can't explain why Outlook search is so unusable, but LookOut has made me much more productive.
What's the big deal with search for Outlook? I'll tell you! Good search turns your computer into a database.
I store a lot of the mail I get (and send) permanently. I also have a hard drive full of documents I've created or received. I do this because I often refer to past emails or documents to remind me of past decisions and reasoning, and to base new materials on when I need to create them. A lot of people use their email as a kind of filing system. The problem is finding the material when you need it.
I have a system of folders I keep these things in, but it's hard to remember which I might have filed a specific item in and each folder has gotten quite large on its own. Searching across them all at once and getting results back in a sortable format makes it very quick to locate a specific email or document. I do this several times a day almost every day at work. Imagine if I had to wait minutes every time I did this and then had to repeat the search for different types of folders and on my hard drive before I could find what I was looking for. I would soon give up on searching in this way.
I have a colleague who keeps a set of well-organized folders on his hard drive, one for each of his projects. He saves every document associated with that project in the relevant folder, even saving local copies of individual emails there and then deleting them from Outlook. He has a meticulous filing system that he says never fails him and he can track the progress of every project, document by document. I confess, that kind of diligence is beyond me. I just can't keep up that level of maintenance. And frankly, I don't think I should have to. A fast and comprehensive search tool makes it possible for me to find what I need wherever it lives.
I am still happily using LookOut but you may have trouble finding it for download. Microsoft was apparently so unhappy with how well this freebie worked in comparison to their Desktop Search tool (a separate download that searches multiple folder types and your hard drive, but still much slower than LookOut and with a much clunkier, harder-to-use interface) that they bought the little company and made the product unavailable. Googling LookOut actually took you to the download site for Desktop Search. There was a huge outcry and they actually put the product up again, but only temporarily. You can't download it from Microsoft as of this writing. The only place I could find it for download today was here. I don't know if that will last so I have included a download link to my own copy here. You just need to register to access the downloads page. (No spam or messages from "partners," I promise.) It's freeware, so I am assuming I am not violating anyone's copyright or any laws.
Anyway, I hope everyone gets as much out of LookOut as I do. Post your experiences in comments below or head over to the Productivity forum to discuss.