Saturday, February 24, 2007

Revisiting Desktop Search Engine

5252Desktop search tool is something near and dear to my heart. With the deluge of unstructured information we create and receive every day (email, MS Office documents, etc.), I can't imagine working without it anymore.

As I wrote before, I have been quite happy with X1. But recently I tried upgrading my Microsoft Office 2003 to Office 2007 and started experiencing performance problems with my laptop. (Office 2007 is a bigger memory hog than Office 2003). Since X1 takes up a lot of system resource and since I don't want to give up on Office 2007 just yet, I decided to experiment with other desktop search tools.

First off, I decided not to experiment with Microsoft Windows Desktop Search because I know it's a bigger memory hog than X1. Windows Desktop Search is supposedly well integrated with Office 2007, so it would be worth considering if I had a more powerful machine. My laptop has the following configuration:

Dell Latitude D610
Windows XP SP2
1.6 GHz Pentium M
512 MB RAM
About 30 GB worth of data to index

The first tool I tried was Google Desktop Search (GDS) version 4.5 because others have testified on its efficient use of system resource. However, after using it for several days, I decided to uninstall it. Along the way, I discovered several things:

  • Resource use is indeed lower than X1. If I go to Task Manager, I could see that my page file usage is about 100 MB less with GDS.
  • Initial indexing takes way more time than X1. With X1 I could install it and the end of a work day, then just leave my laptop running throughout the night and have the indexes ready by the next morning. With GDS, it was more than 2 days before indexing finally completes (in all fairness, because indexing runs over until the next morning, some of the indexing time was parallel to my working time).
  • The sidebar may be a good idea for some people, but not to me. I think there is too much distraction already when you're trying to do actual work on your computer. I just don't need to have the weather forecast or popular dugg stories constantly shoved in my face.
  • The factors that made me decide not to use GDS are:
    • GDS does not allow easy filtering on the search results. For example, in X1 you can type a few key words to search for an email. On the search results, you can then apply other criteria (email folder, sender, whether there is attachment, etc.) to narrow down on the results.
    • Search result preview is much weaker than X1.
    • GDS does not allow scrolling through the search result based on the key word. Let's say you're trying to find a PDF file with the words "foo bar" in it. If you key in "foo bar" as your search key word in X1 and specify the document type to be PDF, it will return with a list of matching documents. In the preview window, you can scroll through the selected document and view where "foo bar" appears. GDS does not have this functionality.

After GDS, I decided to try Copernic Desktop Search 2.0 (CDS) which used to be a favorite of mine before I discovered X1. I always thought that X1’s user interface is plain ugly and CDS’ user interface really blows it away. The new CDS 2.0 even looks even better than 1.0.

Unlike GDS which uses a web browser, both CDS and X1 comes with its own search interface. CDS user interface is quite nicely designed and in my opinion the best in all desktop search tools. I mention above that X1 has the ability to scroll through search result based on key words. CDS takes this feature one step further by allowing scrolling through each of the key words. So in the example above, CDS allows scrolling through either “foo” or “bar”.

However, in the end, there are a few weaknesses of CDS that made me decide to stick with X1:

  • CDS does not come with the ability to search content inside zip (archive) files. This is an important feature for me because I zipped a lot of my important documents for the purpose of grouping and space saving.
  • It turned out that CDS used just as much system resource as X1 does.

So after all that effort, I decided to stay with X1. But at least I got to revisit these desktop search tools and review their newer versions.


Ellardus said...

Thanks for your multiple desktop search reviews. Since multiple outlook profiles is important for me as well, I'll give X1 a try.