Desktop search gets down to business
Solutions from dtSearch, Google, ISYS, X1 allow users to explore knowledge assets throughout the enterprise
When enterprises roll out search applications, it's usually a big IT effort to keep indexes refreshed and the overall systems running. Because of this complexity and the reality that most enterprise knowledge resides on workers' PCs, consumer desktop search technology has infiltrated organizations -- and has caught IT executives off guard.
There's no questioning the benefit of quickly finding that e-mail or spreadsheet squirreled away months ago. Yet there are still red flags concerning security of consumer desktop tools, such as revealing private personal or corporate information or introducing spyware to the enterprise network. More significantly, these tools lack the centralized administration so essential for enterprise deployments.
What, then, distinguishes tools that are free or for personal use from those you'd consider purchasing for your organization? To answer this question, I looked at enterprise products from dtSearch, ISYS Search Software, and X1 Technologies, along with Google's Desktop Search, which has recently been outfitted with corporate features.
I checked the breadth of file types, total number of documents, and systems that each enterprise product indexes, as well as how each accomplishes this. Accuracy is of utmost importance, of course, along with usability. The end-user experience is not, however, just about forming queries and displaying readable results; the operational side, which includes the building and sharing of indexes, is equally significant.
Search performance goes beyond how fast a product indexes and returns results. Thus, in testing these products, I also considered what lies beneath, such as the index size and system resources consumed. Given that IT staff resources come at a premium, I examined how customizable each product is -- and whether rollouts and updates could be performed with existing software management tools.
Last but not least, security is paramount even when these search tools are used within a corporate firewall. Desktop search applications should respect Windows authentication and related permissions, such as log-ins to file servers, Web sites, applications, and local workstations.
The old man of the bunch, dtSearch introduced its desktop text retrieval software in 1991, and Version 7.01 further improves the product's usability and performance. Besides full-text scanning of Outlook e-mail, indexed documents can be in HTML, PDF, XML, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, WordPerfect, RTF, and ZIP formats. The system also searches unindexed documents as well as a combination of both. The network version adds scans of remote file servers.
This application offers a wide range of search options (12 in all), including fuzzy, phonic, natural language, Boolean logic, and proximity. Search results appear in a customizable browser. Navigation commands permit quick scans through documents, although dtSearch lacks results clustering.
Among the products reviewed here, dtSearch offers the most options for managing indexes, including merging and creating libraries. You can index Web sites to any level you want, and the spider works on both static HTML pages and dynamic sites, such as those driven by content management systems. One improvement I'd like to see is password encryption -- passwords entered to crawl protected sites could potentially be read by anyone with access to your PC.