Creo Software Six Degrees 1.51 bills itself as a systemwide organizer that creates meaningful relationships between your e-mail messages, files, and contacts. Six Degrees looks for messages and documents with the same titles or subject lines and groups them, along with the contacts that sent and received them. The extra help is handy if you're perennially disorganized or you need to keep track of every version of a file that was sent to you. Unfortunately, the upgrade from version 1.0 to 1.51 doesn't add thrilling new tools other than improvements to message and file sorting. Both Microsoft Outlook and the Office for Mac e-mail client, Entourage, also let you view messages by subject or sender, and Nelson E-mail Organizer can keep your messages in line for much less. For $99, we'd like a few extra features and better performance from Six Degrees. Six Degrees works only with Microsoft Outlook 2000 or 2002 (Windows) or Entourage X (Macintosh). When you first fire up Six Degrees, it has to index your files and folders to create the catalog it uses to compare documents, e-mail messages, and contacts. This is seemingly an easy process, but it can take quite a while if you're indexing large folders or lots of them. When we tried to index archive folders in Outlook, system processes ground to a halt, and weirdly, Internet Explorer crashed. In our test, the process took only about 15 minutes.
Six Degrees starts by indexing files and folders, which can take quite a while.
Once Six Degrees is up and running, it appears as an icon in the Taskbar and places its movable, semitransparent Status Window in the upper-right corner of your screen. The Status Window contains artsy little icons that represent e-mail, messages, or contacts, and little horizontal lines next to the icons show whether a specific file or e-mail message has other files or messages associated with it. So, if you highlight a message in your in-box, you'll know at a glance whether it has a history on your computer--either as an e-mail thread or as a document on your hard drive. Just click one of the icons, and the program pops up a window called the Legend that contains e-mail threads, a list of documents, or a list of contacts.
It's a simple interface, if not an easy concept--unless you're watching a specific project, we can't imagine why you'd need to know the "relationships," as Creo calls them, associated with every new e-mail message or document. You can, however, lock Six Degrees into watching only specific files and e-mail subject lines, and you can save specific threads as projects, which exist as an icon on your desktop that's always up-to-date with the latest e-mail messages and attachments. The always-on-top Status Window is hard to get used to, however, and even though it's semitransparent, it sometimes interferes with closing a document or scrolling. (You can relocate the window to any convenient spot on your desktop, though, and tweak the transparency settings.)
The floating Status Window shows you whether other e-mail messages or files are associated with your current document or message.
Overall, Six Degrees presents an attractive face, but it's still a lot of extra windows for something that's meant to streamline and organize. We'd prefer it if the Status Window plugged into folder and e-mail toolbars so that you could see relationship bars there, instead of in a separate, hovering window. Six Degrees works best if you're the kind of person who keeps every e-mail message--either in offline folders or in one giant, overcrowded in-box. The software creates a catalog of e-mail folders and files on your hard drive, as well as in your built-in address book. Based on subject lines and document names on your hard drive, it organizes and displays multiple messages, files, and contacts related to a certain topic. You can also save any topic as a project, meaning that Six Degrees sets an icon on your desktop that contains constantly updated data related to the specific topic. Every time you open it, it will be updated with the latest messages and files.
Click the Status Window, and this Legend aggregates related messages, files, and contacts.
While that's a neat organizing trick, Six Degrees does suffer some basic setbacks. The software searches only subject lines and filenames (which Creo calls context)--so if someone changes the thread's subject line or the document filename, you'll lose track of the link between the e-mail mesages. In fact, Six Degrees won't even group similarly titled threads; for example, it found all e-mail messages titled "assistant editor job position," but it wouldn't group them with messages titled "assistant editor position" or even just "assistant editor." Picky, picky. Besides, Outlook itself offers a threaded view--just click View > Current View > By Conversation Topic, and you can view messages in almost the same manner. (The much cheaper Nelson Email Organizer can thread e-mail by subject, as well.)
Some of our complaints from the product's first version remain, too. Version 1.51 lets you compose a new e-mail message from the its pop-up window, called the Legend, but you can't remove messages that Six Degrees has mistakenly added to a group, nor can you click a contact's name to see all the messages he or she has sent. Nor will Six Degrees let you manually associate a file on your network or computer with a message or a person unless that file was sent as an attachment. Finally, you can't ask Six Degrees to index any network drives--although if you view a file on a network drive, Six Degrees will find associated local files and messages.
Sure, you'll get all attachments with the same filename, but if that name varies too much, you'll lose the thread.
Version 1.51 adds a few nifty tools, however. The Legend now features bars in the far left column that display how much of the subject or filename text matches your search topic. You can sort messages and files by relevancy, as well as by date, size, or relationship. You can also right-click a file and choose Reveal Location, although doing so actually opens the appropriate folder, rather than displaying the path. Also, you can search for specific topics from the drop-down menu box (called the Focus Field) in the Legend--a neat trick that's not obvious unless you actually click in the box and start typing. The search is quick and relatively accurate.
Unfortunately, we found that indexing a lot of files or folders severely affected Outlook's performance. For example, when we indexed archived files, Outlook choked; it loaded at a snail's pace, frequently froze, and took forever to switch between selected messages. The performance improved noticeably once we deselected the archive folders, but that presented another set of annoyances. First, whenever you tweak your index settings, Six Degrees must re-index all the folders it previously cataloged. Second, obviously, the fewer files and folders you catalog, the fewer relationships you'll be able to find. Creo backs Six Degrees with passable support. The Web site offers a somewhat helpful FAQ and a flimsy searchable knowledge base, as well as a form and a link to send e-mail and toll-free telephone support (from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT) within North America. There is one catch, though: you must register your copy of the software in order to access e-mail and phone support. Registration is free but requires your e-mail address and a physical address. We hadn't registered--to our knowledge--but we were able to send e-mail using the online form. We received a helpful response the very next day.