Scopeware Vision Review

By Eric Grevstad | Posted April 18, 2003
Where's that memo from the Cleveland office about the Endicott proposal? Saying, "I know it's here somewhere," was lame enough when "here" meant a messy desk and maybe a filing cabinet. Now that "here" is a PC with an 80GB or 120GB hard disk hiding dozens of folders, thousands of files, and tens of thousands of e-mail messages and attachments, it's an admission of defeat.

If you need more file-finding and -perusing power than Windows' built-in Find tool offers — and who doesn't? — you'll be intrigued by Scopeware Vision, a new information management utility from Mirror Worlds Technologies. Available in a $30 Personal or an $80 Professional edition — the latter adds the ability to index and search network drives — Vision turns mundane searches into what it calls "streams," integrating documents and e-mail messages into an addictively accessible, real-time knowledge base. Even on a powerful PC, however, it can be a strain on system performance.

Beyond Chronological Order
Vision — which requires Windows XP or Win 2000 Service Pack 2 and Internet Explorer 6.0 or 5.5 SP2 — indexes the contents of Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint) documents; Adobe Acrobat PDF files; HTML and plain text files; and Outlook (2000 or XP) or Outlook Express (5.0 or 6.0) e-mail messages and attachments. It also offers thumbnail previews of both the abovementioned documents and images in common graphics formats.

Setup, after visiting the Scopeware site to provide your name and e-mail address and receiving instructions for downloading the 30-day free trial version (the company earlier floated a balloon for an ad-supported, freeware edition, but has abandoned it), is simple.

You may, however, want to install Vision just before finishing work and leaving your PC on overnight: After you've told the program which folders and subfolders — such as My Documents and others — to track, the process of indexing existing files and, even more, creating thumbnail previews can easily take an hour or more. Our test system, whose 550MHz Pentium III processor and 128MB of RAM barely passed Vision's minimum requirements, slowed to an edge-of-crash crawl when we tried changing the "create thumbnails" setting from "only when idle" to the lowest of its background multitasking levels.

Once up and running, Vision occupies a modest icon in the system tray until you double-click to start a search. Both before — the default screen or stream shows the 100 most recent documents — and after you enter search criteria, files fan out like a deck of cards, with a thumbnail preview accompanied by the file's name, type (such as Excel or text), date, and size. In an extremely cool feature, cards come to the foreground — the ones that formerly hid them becoming translucent — as you pass the mouse over them.

You click VCR-like control icons with the mouse to move up or down one file or page (section of the stack) at a time or jump to the first or last card in the deck; a settings option lets you see not 100 but as many as 500 search results in return for slightly longer retrievals. An alternative "advanced" view turns the single diagonal row of cards into a V-shaped arc, with left and right arrow icons to leaf backwards and forwards through time.

Logical Combinations
The Vision search stack doesn't care where (in which folder) a file is or which application created it — unless you narrow the field by checking file types in a pull-down menu. Rather, it's a simple and direct way to find all documents containing words or phrases. Though searches aren't case-sensitive, you can hunt for complete phrases by typing them in quotation marks, or use Boolean logic (AND, OR, NOT) to type complex search criteria such as (red OR white) AND wine. You can refine or perform a second search on a set of retrieved items, which we found sometimes handier than Vision's default scrolling navigation.

If you think you'll reuse a particular search or set of filters later — such as all documents related to the abovementioned Endicott proposal; remember, Vision will update the stream every time you leave your PC alone for a few minutes — it's easy to save it, or even assign it a spot on the program's toolbar. A walk-through wizard helps you create searches combining multiple content, date range, and sorting criteria.

Scopeware Vision doesn't pop up information instantaneously, as a freeform personal information manager or note-taker like Micro Logic's Info Select does — it's dealing, after all, not with a database of its own but with assorted, native-format files scattered all over your hard disk or even network drives. But it won't keep you waiting for more than 10 or 20 seconds for impressively flexible feats of document digging or magnetic haystack scanning.

Vision could earn its $30 keep the first time it tells you that So-and-so's crucial comments on the budget weren't in your budget folder at all, but in an attachment you forgot to detach from a recent e-mail. On the negative side, while it found plenty of data in fine fashion, it missed a few tests with obscure words in ancient (not-yet-indexed?) attachments, and its appetite for PC power and slightly limited navigation options make it feel a bit like a work in progress rather than fully polished product. Even so, it's worth a look.

Adapted from WinPlanet.com.

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