An almost overwhelming amount of information is generated and stored in disparate places in our digital world. Email, documents, tweets, posts, status updates, reports, and other data flow through our computers, tablets and smartphones. Cataloging and retrieving this information is a challenge. Fortunately there are a variety of tools that make simultaneously searching through these data mines a little easier.
At Your Command
Operating system search tools, including MS Window 7 and Apple’s OS X Lion Spotlight, allow users to search files and emails locally and on external drives. They both can also be extended to search Web sources, including specific websites and via search engines. In OS X Lion you can search the web via a search engine in Safari or search Wikipedia. When you choose “Search Web” from the Spotlight menu, Safari opens and displays search results using your default search engine. When you choose “Search Wikipedia” from the Spotlight menu, the Dictionary application opens and displays the Wikipedia entry for the term. In Windows 7 you can extend a search to the web by scrolling to the bottom of search results and clicking on the Internet Explorer icon. This action will pop open the browser and carry your search over to your default search engine. If you want to add further search enhancements to Windows 7 you can create a federated search through connectors to search websites, MS SharePoint, and data repositories that use the OpenSearch format. Adding search connectors for most folks will include adding one that has already been created, however it isn’t terribly difficult to create your own.
Don’t forget that in MS Word if you highlight a word or phrase and right click one option available to you is “look up”. Clicking on that option will yield a number of resources including dictionaries, business resources, and others. You can get results directly in a panel in the software, so no need to hunt for a website or pull out a dictionary. Recently Google Docs added an inline search tool called “Research”, making it easy to use Google search to look up synonyms or make sure your quote is correct – or anything else. It also offers the ability to insert a formatted citation from your results or hyperlink the term or phrase to the website.
X1 and Copernic are two sophisticated desktop search engines that make finding content on your local machine, networked drives, or external drives a snap. Super-fast, imbued with bells and whistles, and reasonably priced, these tools have been around for some time. But, the developers have not rested on their laurels. Both of these super powered search tools now offer mobile apps, to let you search your data on the go.
With myCopernic On the Go! you can search your computer remotely from your smartphone, iPad or remote PC (sorry, Windows only). You will need to install the myCopernic Connector for it to work. Then from your device you can login to myCoperic On the Go! to access search for your files. You will need Internet access, and functionality is delivered through a web-based app, not a native app. Because of that it works on just about any device with a browser, including BlackBerry. This service costs $9.95 annually, in addition to the $50 for Copernic Professional Desktop Search (though it is not necessary to have Copernic Professional Desktop installed).
X1 offers X1 Mobile Search. A native app for iPhone or iPad, this free app will let users search their Macs or Windows PC with or without having X1 Professional Client installed (although they do mention it works best with X1 search). X1 Mobile Search also lets you view and display files, share files, and download files for offline use. Setup includes downloading the X1 Mobile Search app from the iTunes store and installing the Windows or Mac version of X1 Mobile Connect. Et voila. Connections are protected by x.509 PKI based two-factor authentication and RSA powered SSL/TLS.
While you can try to pull in data from your web world to local software, such as using MS Outlook to house your Gmail, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn so you can search them all in one place, the reality is that keeping these things separate could be one of your coping mechanisms. Enter Greplin. Greplin’s tagline is “Search, find, organize, discover your life online”. It can search everything from your accounts in Gmail, Google Docs, Google Apps, Dropbox, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Evernote, Yammer, GoogleReader and many more. Simply sign up and choose which accounts you want to allow Greplin to search and index. Some accounts, like Evernote, Basecamp, Salesforce, Yammer and GoogleReader are part of the premium offering – $4.95 a month or $50 a year. Search results can be filtered and viewed by categories like messages, files, people, events, and streams – all based on what your index includes. Of course there is an iPhone app, or a mobile version for other devices. Chrome users can add an extension to keep Greplin in the browser for quick access to searches. Lightning fast and super useful, this search engine finds those bits of fragmented information that float past your eyes every day so you can have instant recall.
Does It Compute?
Would you like to do analysis and computation on your own data? Wolfram Alpha can help. Wolfram Alpha is a “computational knowledge engine”. It provides answers, analytics, statistics, charts and graphs of information stored on the web. For instance, a lawyer trying to help determine alimony payments to a spouse moving to a new city could look at the cost of living index for Boston versus Sacramento. The Wolfram Alpha results show the differences in a variety of charts. Wolfram Alpha Pro takes this type of analysis to your own data. Upload images, input numeric or tabular data into the browser, or upload 60+ file types to point the engine at your data. Output data can be downloaded in PDF, or 3-D CDF (Computable Document Format) files. Wolfram Alpha Pro costs $5 a month with a free 30 day trial. If you want the engine to search through firm data on a large scale they offer an enterprise version of the engine through the Wolfram Alpha Appliance. They even have an app just for lawyers – the Wolfram Professional Assistant for $5 from the iTunes store. It includes information like financial computations, including fee calculations, settlement calculations, current interest rates, historical value of money, and federal US tax rates, crime rates and histories for specific crimes, and estate planning calculation tools. Plus a legal dictionary.
Google, Bing, Yahoo, Blekko, and other search engines mine the World Wide Web. Sometimes, though, you just want to get access to your own information. Some of these tools might just help.