Sunday, May 28, 2006

Desktop Search Tools

The desktop search industry has been around for some time, but we only started hearing a lot of it when Google came out with its product in 2005. If you recall, at that time most internet tech publications did reviews and comparison articles on this matter with Google, Microsoft or Copernic coming out on top. Unfortunately, the interest on this matter seemed to wane down and if you do an internet search right now on desktop search software comparison, you won't find a lot of recent articles.

Desktop Search is something I use daily and I admit I followed the reviews closely in 2005. The 3 products I tried hands-on were Google Desktop, Microsoft Windows Desktop Search and Copernic Desktop Search. I ended up using Copernic Desktop Search mainly because it was the only product that could work well with multiple Outlook profiles. Believe me, I wanted to use either Google or Microsoft because of brand familiarity, but in the end logic prevailed over heart and I stuck with Copernic to this day.

With the recent release of Google Desktop 4, I again revisited my Copernic Desktop Search decision and decided to do another hands-on evaluation for myself. Coincidentally, the company I'm working for released their version of Windows Desktop Search that integrates with the company's enterprise search. Additionally, the research team at Microsoft came up with Phlat -- a new user interface that sits on top of Windows Desktop Search. So here are my thoughts.

Google Desktop 4 If you read the reviews, the new features of Google Desktop (sidebar, gadgets) are what separates them from the rest of the pack. I actually found them to be a bloat and wish they were not included. I use a 15" laptop most of the time and the sidebar reduces the screen real estate and is a distraction for me when I'm doing real work. I don't need for RSS feeds to be constantly displayed all the time and I'm sure the weather doesn't change every minute. If I want to read the news or look up the weather forecast, I'll go to my browser.

The Google Gadget is another thing I don't need. Well, I like the "gadget" concept, but I already have Yahoo Widgets which has a lot more software at this point. I don't care for the Google Gadget and I wish it wasn't bundled with Google Desktop in the first place.

Microsoft Windows Desktop Search I really wanted this product to work for me because it's endorsed by the company I'm working for and I want everything on my company-issued laptop to be compliant with their policies. After installing it and playing with it during actual work environment for about a week, I discovered a few things I really have a problem with:

  • It's a memory hog. A big one. If I go to Task Manager, it eats up about 200MB more than Copernic Desktop Search.
  • I simply prefer Copernic's philosophy on searching user interface. Having Phlat sit on top of Windows Desktop Search helps a bit, but not enough. More on this below.

Copernic Desktop Search CDS is never a flashy product and the company seems slow in releases (it's stuck in 1-point-something version), but CDS is good in areas that matter. CDS runs on a small footprint and the performance is pretty good (I never do a time comparison with other products, but it is as good or better than the rest). There are 2 specific features that keep me coming back to Copernic Desktop Search. First, it works with multiple Outlook profile. I use multiple profiles in Outlook because of my job and I found that neither Google nor Windows Desktop Search handle it well.

Secondly, CDS lets you choose a document type prior to conducting the search. Then, after search result is displayed , it provides an easy way to refine the search by adding filters or choose another document type. I find this to be more intuitive because 95% of the time I already know if I want to find an email, a file or a picture.

This way of searching is, in fact, what the folks at Microsoft Research agree to be the most intuitive way. This is in essence what Phlat does when used with Windows Desktop Search. Yes, Phlat provides document tagging and other little features, but it largely just gets Windows Desktop Search to where CDS already is.

What I'd like to see from Copernic (the company) is more effort to reach out to its customers. Other companies already have RSS feeds, forums, and other ways of interacting to its customers. I'd like to see Copernic start doing this so I can tell them to jump on the document tagging bandwagon.