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Desktop search: changes ahead?

This article appears in the issue July/August 2013, [Vol 22, Issue 7]
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With my attention engaged, I refreshed my memory about desktop search programs installed on one of my test machines. Gaviri, developed by Dr. Emeka Akaezuwa, is an interesting system. The desktop build delivers "universal search" functionality. The system can index the contents of a hard drive without stumbling over file types or taking over the computer so other work grinds to a halt during indexing. Now at Version 2.1, the system costs $40. The feature that I found quite useful was Gaviri's ability to index archived e-mail files generated by older versions of Firefox, Outlook Express and Outlook. The interface features panels, and the approach reminded me of the current version of X1's desktop search and eDiscovery interface.

Shareware, donationware

I also refreshed myself with the shareware product Effective File Search, now at Version 6.8.1. According to my notes from a review in 2011, EFS is a "powerful but easy-to-use search tool." I noted that when I last looked at the software, the price was $40. The current version is available for download at The product has moved from commercial to free download, which is a good marketing angle and a possible signal that making big money from desktop search continues to be difficult in today's financial climate. Also in my search folder are products from a number of vendors. Many of them are unfamiliar to me. For example, I have a version of SearchMyFiles, developed by NirSoft. Now at Version 2.35, the system is "an alternative to the standard Search for Filers and Folders" module of Windows. The system works, but the interface is overwhelming. More problematic, the search is difficult to stop. A quick trip to the Windows Task Manager is necessary to stop the process to modify a query. A download is available at SearchMyFiles can be run from a USB thumb drive like the Gaviri system. The program weighs in at 193 kilobytes for the x64 version.

Another desktop search system has an intriguing name, Everything Search Engine. The system is donationware. The idea is that a user sends a contribution to the developer via PayPal. The system is available at The interesting feature of the search system is "real-time updating." The system only indexes file and folder names, not the contents of files. On a modern system that is not burdened with multiple applications running at full tilt, the system can process several hundred thousand file names in about one minute. Your mileage may vary. The "everything" is, in my opinion, a bit of a red herring. I need to locate specific files with quite specific content. I rarely look for a file or directory name. If you don't need that functionality, you might want to give Everything Search Engine a try. Be sure to check out the caveats in the FAQ file at

I wanted to run queries in the Exalead and ISYS search systems. But both firms have distanced themselves from those products. The Exalead system would not install on Windows 8. I could not get the OK from ISYS' new owner, Perceptive Software, a unit of Lexmark. The support desk was friendly but unable to deal with my request. Dead end. I ran into a similar customer support issue with Copernic. I purchased a new license, but I was not able to get help from the customer support desk. The highest profile vendors of desktop search struck me as somewhat disorganized. dtSearch made it quick and easy to download and test the company's system.

Stops and stalls

In my notes about our tests, each of the systems slowed when processing terabyte collections of content. A few complex queries caused the search systems to hang. My engineers told me that depending on what other processes are running on a test machine, dead stops are not unexpected. The upside of each of those systems is that when one looks at a search result and then goes back to the search screen, the systems do not automatically rerun the query as the Windows 7 and Windows 8 built-in search systems do. (The work around for Windows' propensity to rerun the query when opening a hit from the results screen is to create a temporary folder and place shortcuts to the search results in which I am interested.)

What struck me is that desktop search is not a slam-dunk. Some of my favorite systems are no longer available in desktop search builds. In some cases, good systems have changed hands or been orphaned. For example, I found Google Desktop Search quite useful for certain types of queries. The functionality can be replicated with a Google Search Appliance (GSA) or by putting the content on Web pages and using Google's hosted search to make the files available. Google discontinued the "mini" and bumped up the functionality and price for the entry GB-7007. But the GSA's increased price point has put a basic system out of reach of most single users.

Autonomy once offered a desktop search component called KaiJin, which I found useful. (See The angle was that Autonomy's KaiJin was an intelligent assistant. I also remember Enfish, which added some semantic functions to basic keyword retrieval. (See Michael Weiner offered Gopher, an efficient, high-speed search system for MS DOS-based systems. Weiner worked on the Document Retrieval for Linguistic Knowledge System that leapfrogged Gopher's desktop focus.

There was Yahoo Desktop, which was a version of Lucene developed by IBM. The system was OK, but neither IBM nor Yahoo put much development effort into the system. Lucene is still an important part of IBM's text retrieval approach, but the Yahoo version disappeared. Exalead offered a desktop search system which clustered and provided results lists that considered keywords and semantic elements. I also found Brainware's (Perceptive Software) trigram technology useful when querying patent and technical documents. I have used at various times the Copernic system, dtSearch, ISYS Search and X1, which is speedy and uses an interface that evokes among my team high praise or grumbles.

Specialists in the enterprise will need desktop search systems as long as there are desktop computers. The "death" of a PC does not mean that an entire population will disappear overnight. On the other hand, desktop search is not perfect, and innovation seems to have stalled.  Desktop search remains a struggle at least for me.

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