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WinLab Reviews
Head to Head: Search Utilities
Still Seeking Savvy Search Tools

-- by Warren Ernst and Amy Helen Johnson

Search engines consistently rank as the most popular Web sites, and for good reason-finding the information you want among the Internet's millions of pages is akin to looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Search engines' reputation for being unwieldy has given rise to third-party products that help you overcome inherent vagaries. But common sense and savvy search skills will serve you far better than most of these solutions. The two we review here, CyberSearch 3.0 and ZooWorks Research Personal Edition 2.0, are no exception. They also fall short when compared to the search utility on our WinList, WebCompass 2.0, which offers a smooth design and intelligent organizational features.

CyberSearch 3.0

CyberSearch is an unimpressive jumble of tools for searching your local drive, intranet and Internet, offering more hassle than help.

Learning the CyberSearch lingo is a nuisance. Collections, for example, are external search engines like Infoseek or an index of local files that you create. You group collections into profiles, then you build assistants to perform searches using those profiles. Meanwhile, the organizer tracks categories, which are lists of assistants and search results.

What all this linguistic mumbo jumbo means is that it takes a long time to set up a search. Don't expect to leap into productive searching right away; first, you have to create indexes, profiles and assistants. Fortunately, wizards help you through this process, but if you don't use each component in the right order-for example, you have to set up a profile before you can tell an assistant to search it-you'll be forced to go back and amend your work. And chances are, due to the unintuitive interface and scattershot documentation, you will create things in the wrong order and have to spend time making corrections.

Once we generated a few sets of search results, we still had the hassle of wading through the inappropriate Web sites on the list. A search for "Memphis Microsoft" produced a list of URLs that included the Memphis Objectivist Association as well as the Memphis and IE4 Info Center. Looking at the URLs was also tedious. We selected one, launched it and then had to manually switch over to our browser to see the page. It would have been better if the browser had launched automatically.

One of the more attractive promises of CyberSearch is its ability to create an index of local files. Unfortunately, doing so is a prohibitively time-consuming process. Program literature warned us that building indexes would take a while, and that was no lie. Simply listing all the Word, Excel and HTML documents among our 1.1GB of files took more than 30 minutes. During that time, our Pentium 133 with 16MB of RAM slowed to a crawl. Since we specified that the index run every day in order to stay fresh, we timed it to go off at 1 a.m. when we weren't working. This solution might not be feasible if you turn off your machine at night for security purposes.

CyberSearch has none of WebCompass' automatic summarization or subcategorization features. The abstract at the bottom of the screen contains the first few text lines of the Web page-about the same information that AltaVista provides on its lists. You must move URLs to different categories manually, and you can't easily rename an entire category to save the search results. In short, CyberSearch is not much better than bookmarking your favorite Internet search engine.

ZooWorks Research Personal Edition 2.0

Hitachi Software's ZooWorks Research Personal Edition 2.0 promises to index all the information you see on the Web, making it accessible and searchable-even if you never bookmark it. Though ZooWorks accomplishes this task competently, this ability is far less useful in reality than in theory. ZooWorks merely transfers a search from a search engine like AltaVista to your local machine, with the slight advantage that the information will be vaguely familiar.

ZooWorks' premise is an interesting one: It acts as a proxy server that makes a notation in its own database of every Web site you visit. It then attempts to index and summarize it on your drive, sort of like a bookmarking system that automatically tracks your movements on the Internet. You can recall this database later and perform a search by calling up ZooWorks within your Web browser. You can search the database itself using keywords (with or without wildcards), by date or by folder. Click on the display results to jump directly to the Web.

ZooWorks' ultimate problem is that, like true photographic memory, it works too well. All sites are listed together without distinction. There's no way to quickly mark an entry in the database as being especially useful, nor is there a way to tell ZooWorks to store only a particular set of sites. Without these features, ZooWorks differs little from the major search engines. In fact, in many cases, the complete list of sites that AltaVista or Yahoo generates is more useful. ZooWorks' all-inclusive memory means that every place you've ever visited is thrown into the same pot. This information stew is far less useful than the organizational options, intelligent summaries and cross-indexing capabilities of WebCompass.

Hitachi also produces a group version of ZooWorks called ZooWorks Research for Teams 1.0 that sells for $795. It suffers from the same problems as the personal edition, compounded by the addition of sites visited by people other than yourself.

If the site is one you visited, there's a chance you'll know whether it was worthwhile. You won't know the usefulness of a co-worker's site, unless someone has gone back to the database and provided an opinion.

ZooWorks Teams does automatically create a 30-word description of each site, which might be helpful in locating good sites. Usually, though, the site description is a cryptic combination of keywords and sentence fragments taken from the Web page.

Still searching

Neither product is good enough to knock WebCompass 2.0 off our WinList of recommended products. CyberSearch is time-consuming to set up and tedious to use. The idea behind ZooWorks looks good on paper, but in the real world finding information quickly on the Internet requires personal selectivity, which ZooWorks doesn't easily permit. Neither search utility gives you a better description of the sites you've found than the well-known Internet search engines.

Stick with Web Compass. It provides an easy way to hit multiple search engines with the same query, flexible options for organizing your search results and intelligent methods of describing and cross-referencing Web-page contents.

CyberSearch 3.0
Bottom Line: Messy workflow needlessly complicates searching
Price: $99
Platforms: 95, NT
Pros: Wizards ease setup slightly
Cons: Obscure nomenclature; unintuitive, awkward and belabored initialization phase; indiscriminate search results
Strongest Rival: WebCompass 2.0

Frontier Technologies Corp., 800-929-3054, 414-241-4555. Winfo #837

ZooWorks Research Personal Edition 2.0
Bottom Line: A photographic memory of the Internet that remembers the forgettable
Price: $29.95
Platforms: 95, NT
Pros: Summarizes and remembers every URL you visit
Cons: Difficult to determine what's useful within the result set
Strongest Rival: WebCompass 2.0

Hitachi Software Products, 800-658-1858 xH3, 408-986-9770. Winfo #838

Windows Magazine, August 1997, page 144.

[ Go to August 1997 Table of Contents ]