FileHawk: Taking Desktop Search Beyond Your Desktop

By Joseph Moran | Posted January 02, 2007

Few people miss the days before third-party desktop search tools, when Windows' built-in search function was the only way (and not a particularly good one) to find files buried on your hard drive.

Thankfully there are numerous excellent (and free) products now available from the likes of Copernic, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, but Spain-based Quadrom Services, S.L would like you to know that there are alternatives to the "big boys" of desktop search — namely, the company's new FileHawk search utility.

Interface and Features
The first thing you're likely to notice about FileHawk is its extremely simple interface. It's easy enough to use, but not particularly attractive or well laid out, so it won't be everyone's cup of tea (it certainly isn't ours).

To perform a FileHawk search, you enter your search term into the field provided. Like most search utilities, FileHawk begins conducting the search as soon as you start typing and updates the results as you type. An Advanced Search expansion menu lets you conduct more detailed queries, such as searches based on file date, type, size, etc.

Search results are displayed in the right-side pane (the search term is always highlighted), and you can sort or perform actions on them (such as open, print, etc.) via right-click context menus and you're also presented with basic file statistics for the search results.

There's no distinct preview pane provided; instead, each result entry includes a plus sign icon, successive presses of which reveal more of the document. It's helpful, but not nearly as much as a preview pane would be. Moreover, once you expand an entry there's no way to collapse it back, which can make scrolling through results more cumbersome. On the "plus" side, when search results include a video or audio file, an inline player is included with each result.

One of the prices you pay for FireHawk's simplicity is that you don't get many of the convenience features that are commonly found in other products in this category (Google, Microsoft, Ask Jeeves, Yahoo, and Copernic, to name a few). For example, FileHawk lacks search term prediction, spell checking/correction, and a retained history of recently performed searches (unless you manually decide to save a search, as described later).

While there is a FileHawk tray icon from which you can call up the application, you must open the full application to conduct a search; you can't enter a search term from the tray or taskbar. FileHawk also doesn't include a browser-integrated toolbar, though this is somewhat forgivable since it's not designed for Web searches (as the major desktop search tools are).

FileHawk handles saved searches via a useful feature it calls Active Folders. When you save a set of search parameters for future use, it's set up as an Active folder and displayed in a hierarchical Windows Explorer-like list. (There are also several pre-defined Active Folders, such as files added within the past three or seven days.)

FileHawk isn't the only search utility that lets you save searches, but the folder structure makes it quite easy to navigate through and jump back and forth between past searches (and as long new files are added in the folders that are indexed, the Active Folders are always current).

File Types

FileHawk uses the same Microsoft iFilter technology that the company uses in its own Windows Desktop Search tool. For its part, FileHawk supports a fairly extensive list of the most common file types (an alphabetized list can be found here), but there are some notable omissions, too.

For example, files created by the open-source OpenOffice.org suite of productivity applications — .odt, .ods, .odp, .odg, and .odf — aren't supported (perhaps no surprise there), nor can you use FileHawk to search the contents within Adobe PDF files — only filenames and metadata.

You can add support for the missing file types (and the ability to search inside of PDF files) by installing the appropriate iFilter plug-ins (you can find many at www.ifilter.org) but you have to find and install a separate plug in for each file type you want to add, which can be inconvenient. In some cases, you may even need to pay a registration fee for certain plug-ins.

Another considerable drawback is that FileHawk's search capabilities are limited to files only — they do not work for items like browser favorites or history, and while you can search e-mail attachments, you can can't search within e-mail messages (ditto for contacts).

External Media Support

FileHawk's main point of differentiation over other search utilities is that it can catalog removable media like CD/DVD discs, external hard drives or flash memory devices. This allows FileHawk to include these types of media in search results even if they're not persistently connected to the computer. Removable media is not searched by default, but you can tell FileHawk to include it by clicking a check mark before conducting the search. (Special icons in the results pane denote Items found on removable media.)

The ability to search offline media has obvious appeal, but there are practical impediments to using the feature. For starters, it presupposes that you're willing to devote the time needed to create catalogs for all your removable media. Creating an individual catalog doesn't necessarily take a lot of time — we were able to create a catalog of a CD-ROM disc in less than 30 seconds — but doing so for more than a handful of discs can quickly become a major expenditure of effort with lots of disc swapping.

Moreover, when search results point you to a particular disc, being able to locate it among many others requires that you have them labeled (you can create your own description for media that you catalog, but FileHawk will also use the volume name to ID a disc) and physically organized, which may be too much to ask for the less fastidious among us.

Finally, FileHawk's catalogs are a snapshot in time, so when you update the contents of cataloged media you must delete the old catalog and create a new one (at least, you must do so if you want accurate, up-to-date results). This isn't an issue for write-once media like burned CD/DVDs, but it will be for something like a Flash drive or external hard drive, where contents might change regularly.

Customization
FileHawk offers few configuration options, so there aren't too many ways to modify the application's performance or behavior. It's not necessarily a bad thing — fewer options often mean simpler operation, but power users that like to tweak settings will be somewhat disappointed.

For example, you can schedule FileHawk's index rebuild to take place at a particular time of day, but you can't adjust the reindexing frequency of individual file types (as you can with Copernic Desktop Search). FileHawk will automatically update the index as files change, and although you can check a box to ensure this doesn't occur while a system is "active," there's no way to prevent it at other inopportune times, such as when a system is running on battery power.

The Bottom Line
You can download a fully functional copy of FileHawk (which runs on Windows XP or 2000) for a 30-day trial before deciding whether you want to part with the registration fee, which was approximately $26 at the time of this writing. (The official price is 19.95 Euros; your cost in U.S. dollars will vary based on the current exchange rate.)

Ultimately, although FileHawk has some interesting aspects, it also has enough shortcomings that we're hard pressed to be able to recommend paying almost $30 for it, especially since there are more powerful and sophisticated alternatives available for free. Those who have a specific need to catalog external media may find FileHawk worth a look, but we think most users will be better served by one of the established search tools.

Pros: Easy to use; can catalog and index removable media such as CD/DVD discs, external hard drives, and flash memory devices

Cons: Not free (especially given how many competing clients are free); simplistic interface; to search certain file types you must install separate plug-ins; doesn't index e-mail contents, contacts, or browser-related data

Adapted from winplanet.com.

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