Searching for the perfect desktop search solution

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Until recently, I’ve used the free version of X1 for desktop search. Although it can be very resource-intensive during indexing, I love how it indexes Outlook email across multiple PST files, and allows very flexible searching.

Last week, I installed a network-attached drive for our shared home office, and that reminded me that the free version of X1 didn’t support indexing of files on network drives. Before I decided to bite the bullet and pay for the full professional version, I decided to give Google Desktop Search — which I tried a few months back — another try. It has improved from my first trial, and I like how fast and complete it is at indexing files, but I’m really not happy with the search interface for email.

X1 by default shows all of my email in a single stream, sorted on date (forward or reverse), then allows me to dynamically filter the stream based on any combination of content, to/from, subject, folder (I use folders extensively for email organization within Outlook) and date. Google (once you find the advanced search options page) searches email by content, date and to/from — but doesn’t allow partial match searches on the actual email address in the to/from, which is pretty useless for me when I’m looking for all email from a particular customer, for example. Once a search is executed in Google, there’s no filtering, just the results list; you have to return to the advanced search screen to start a more precise search. Inexplicably, the Google search functionality that’s added into Outlook as a toolbar only allows content searching, no to/from or date searching, and returns the results without reference to where they are in terms of PST file or folder structure.

I also use X1 when I’m reorganizing email, for example, to find all of the messages from a particular customer that are in the Sent Items folder and move them to the specific customer folder. Not only can I find them all quickly, the X1 interface allows me to grab them all directly and move them to the new location; although Outlook has to be open while this is happening, I do the move through X1’s interface, not through Outlook. I can also do many other common Outlook functions directly on messages in the X1 interface, including reply, forward, delete, etc.

At the root of my issue is the completely opposite philosophies adopted by X1 and Google: X1 starts by showing you everything that you have, then allows you to filter the results; Google starts by showing you nothing, then allows you to search for what you want. The Google approach works well on the internet, where the content is essentially infinite and I’m only interested in a tiny subset of it; however, X1 may make more sense for the files that I have on my desktop (and network drive), since I have interest in the complete set of information, and am primarily looking to narrow it down to the few items that I’m interested in at any particular moment.

So today, I’ve reinstalled X1 for indexing only my email, and have left Google Desktop Search for indexing my files while I continue to evaluate Google’s usability as a file search tool. I do like that Google includes things like recent web pages in the search results, so I may end up with this hybrid solution, although I don’t like the idea of using two different utilities for basically the same operation.

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