Copernic's Search Technology Lands on the Desktop

By Joseph Moran | Posted April 21, 2005

The amount of accumulated information on even the most well-worn PC can't begin to compare with the vast and seemingly endless repository of information we call the World Wide Web. But knowing that usually doesn't make the job of finding a particular file or scrap of information on your hard drive any less daunting or difficult.

To help with the task, lots of vendors have developed desktop search utilities that put Windows built-in tools to shame and that can make searching the bowels of your computer considerably more efficient and fruitful. No less a who's who list of Web search companies than Ask Jeeves, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo have contributed utilities to the category.

Copernic, another company well versed in the science of search, offers a tool for the task that combines many of the best features of its competitors along with unique and useful features of its own. An excellent interface that manages to be user-friendly without being overly Spartan adds to its appeal.

Copernic Desktop Search (CDS) runs on any version of Windows from 98 up through XP. We reviewed version 1.5 (beta) of the utility which, like its predecessors, is available as a free download at www.copernic.com.

Installing CDS is quick and easy, and upon completion the utility immediately starts indexing the hard drive contents. One nit to pick: the utility offers no time frame for when it will complete the initial indexing — it doesn't even display the percentage of indexing completed. If you're willing to walk away from your computer for a long while after installation you won't mind, however.

CDS indexes data on the fly, but by default halts the process any time the computer is in use. On our test system (a 1.2 GHz Pentium M notebook with 640 MB of RAM), it took 94 minutes for CDS to distill a bit less than 10,000 documents into about 75 MB of indexing data containing over 172,000 keywords.

File Support
The types of files CDS can index are varied and extensive, making it one of the more versatile of the various desktop search tools currently available. Obvious candidates include Microsoft Office files such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents as well as both e-mail and contacts from Outlook and Outlook Express. HTML, XML, PDF, and even documents from most versions of WordPerfect files can be indexed as well.

CDS can also index browser histories and favorites, and not just for Internet Explorer — it searches Firefox, Mozilla, and Netscape (v6 or later) as well. Similarly, Microsoft's e-mail applications are not the only ones CDS will index. If you use the increasingly popular Mozilla Thunderbird e-mail client, CDS will let you search messages and contacts from that application, too. (Of note, Google recently added support for non-Microsoft browsers and e-mail clients to its own tool as well.)

Copernic provides equally broad support for image and multimedia formats. Searchable digital media formats include iTunes, QuickTime and Real Media files in addition to MP3, WMA, MPEG and so on.

Unique to CDS (at least among the free desktop search tools) is the ability to search mapped network folders as well as local hard drives.

Interface
One of the best aspects of CDS is its top-notch user interface. Some desktop search tools, while powerful, blunt their usability with busy and sometimes confusing interfaces. The CDS interface, on the other hand, is so clean and well laid-out that it's hard to believe the software is free. You can launch it from an icon in the system tray or use the "Deskbar" (embedded in the Windows Taskbar) to save time.

In the CDS application itself, large and easy-to-read icons along the top let you select the broad category you want to search through (i.e., e-mail, files, pictures, etc). Each offers an area to refine your search with added parameters that are relevant to the category, including file size or date, From: or To: fields, subject line and so forth. If a keyword search alone is sufficient, these advanced options can be hidden from view.

After you pick a search category and CDS has found information based on your search term (which seemingly occurs in the blink of an eye), the search tool displays links to other categories that had results (as well as how many), so that you can easily view those additional results. CDS lists items matching the search term directly above a preview pane, which highlights each occurrence of the term.

Although the preview pane (which can be resized or removed) comes in handy, it does have a significant drawback. Specifically, it doesn't display content in its native, WYSIWYG format, so while a Word document viewed in the preview pane retains basic text formatting like bold or italics, other characteristics of the document (graphic elements, for example) are not displayed. Similarly, previews of PowerPoint documents show the slide text but not the slide backgrounds.

Another weakness is that unlike most other utilities, CDS doesn't integrate desktop search with Web searching capabilities. This probably isn't all that surprising since Copernic doesn't offer a Web search engine of its own (although it does offer the popular standalone Web search tool Copernic Agent, which has to be used separately from Copernic Desktop Search). The end result is that if you want to also check for your search term on the Web you need to use Copernic Agent separately or click the CDS Web button, which brings up an integrated browser pointing to Overture's AlltheWeb search page.

Unfortunately, doing so doesn't fill in the field with the term you were just looking for. You also can't access recently used search terms on the Web search screen as you can in the other areas. Ultimately, the Web searching capability doesn't give you any real incentive to use it over a Google, Yahoo or MSN, so many CDS users will likely prefer to conduct their Web searches separately.

Customization
CDS offers you a considerable amount of control over how the application looks and behaves — a real strong point. For starters, you can tweak exactly what data gets indexed and from where. You can specify in detail which data folders get indexed and the file types that will be included in the search results, and if you don't need (or want) to index a certain type of information, you can turn it off and even remove the related button from the menu.

To help users find their personal happy medium between comprehensive indexing and system performance, CDS indexes on the fly on Windows 2000/XP machines, and for Outlook users it will even index incoming and outgoing e-mail as it's created. Otherwise, you can schedule indexing tasks to occur after a specified number of minutes, hours or days.

The Bottom Line
People looking for a desktop search utility have an ever-growing number of products from which to choose, and Copernic Desktop Search should be on almost everyone's short list. If you like to search the Web concurrently with your desktop, than CDS likely won't be the best choice given the alternatives now available, but CDS's speed, broad file support, excellent interface and ability to search networked data will make it an excellent choice for many.

Pros: Extremely well-designed interface, easy to use, support for non-IE browsers and mail clients (Firefox, Netscape, Thunderbird, Eudora), capably searches network drives, extensive list of file types supported (including PDF support), freeware tool

Cons: Preview pane doesn't display many files natively, doesn't integrate desktop and Web search capabilities, doesn't integrated with Copernic's Web search tool Copernic Agent

Adapted from winplanet.com.

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