25 September 2006

#3. I Know It's In Here Somewhere

Welcome back to my Tool Bar & Grill, where twice a month I report on useful Windows utilities or Web sites.

Bulletin: Synch Your Clock

Did you remember to set your clocks back on the night of September 30/October 1? Nut cases like me insist on near-perfect accuracy in timekeping, and fortunately these days it's a snap to do. The Internet offers many free utilities that synchronize your computer's clock with government and university atomic time servers world-wide. I've tried several, and most of them are easy to use. For example, Atomic TimeSync from http://www.analogx.com/ is about as simple as you can get, and Rocket Time from http://www.rocketsoftware.com/ also is very straighforward, while Dimension 4 from http://www.thinkman.com/ is a bit more versatile but with a more complicated interface. (Note: None of the clock-synch utilities I tried works through a proxy server.)

Kill the Puppy

Search tools have become routine fixtures on Windows desktops since Google made a big splash nearly two years ago through its expert PR campaign for its free Google Desktop Search utility. Microsoft, Yahoo, and AOL rushed to release their own free desktop search tools. Meanwhile, Copernic Desktop Search has been quietly indexing my files for nearly four years.

Before other desktop search utilities became popular, the glacial Windows search tool, with its annoying bloodhound, was the main choice. Now you can forget about the pup, because searching your computer for any evasive bit of information has become fast and flexible. All the desktop search tools index everything on all your drives one time, and then maintain the index in the background during the computer’s idle moments.

Google Desktop Search is the most popular such tool, but Copernic Desktop Search is still my favorite. If you haven’t heard of Copernic, blame the publisher’s reticence in the PR arena, not the product. A number of reviewers have chosen the venerable Copernic over its newer rivals.

Now Copernic has just issued its brand-new version 2. I've been playing with it, and I am very impressed. Its superior features include:

  • Search by type of document (email, file, music, picture, etc.), or search all types at once. Either way, the number of hits of each type is shown.
  • The search results list is grouped, and search terms in the result titles are highlighted in different colors.
  • You can sort the search results on various keys, depending on the document type.
  • A preview window highlights the first occurrence of a search term in context in the selected result document. You can jump to additional occurrences in the preview window.
  • Email attachments are searched as well as the emails.
  • You can search browser favorites and history.
  • You can search metadata of Microsoft Office, Open Office, Word Perfect, graphics, music, program code, and many other types of files. You can also add new file types to index.
  • You can search networked drives.
  • You can refine your search with wild cards and with Boolean search operators, including OR, NOT, and NEAR.
  • You can save searches for future re-use.
  • Searching begins as you type ("incremental search"), so results are displayed quickly, and narrowed as you continue to type.
  • As you type, Copernic suggests completions for your query, and also offers query correction (“did you mean…?”).
  • The GUI is clear and highly customizable. Indexing rules are customizable, too.
  • There is no need for a browser or Internet connection, though you can search the Web through Copernic if you want. Copernic does not collect any data if you do search the Web. (Google insists on sending “anonymous” data to the mother ship, raising security concerns.)
  • An optional task bar search box provides instant results in a pop-up window.
  • An optional browser tool bar searches the Internet with multiple search engines (including Google, Yahoo, Ask, and others), returning more comprehensive results than Google alone.

Copernic is not without its shortcomings, of course, but it has fewer than most rivals. For instance, it indexes compressed files by their names only, not their contents, and it indexes PowerPoint text but not graphics. And it does not have a large developer community developing creative new plug-ins, as Google has (for example, a third-party Google plug-in indexes ZIP file contents).

Nevertheless, I am very satisfied with Copernic Desktop Search’s functionality and design, and I highly recommend trying out version 2 for yourself at http://www.copernic.com/.

If all you want to search is Outlook emails, however, you could consider Lookout, a free Outlook plug-in from Microsoft (look for it at www.microsoft.com/downloads). But I don’t like its geeky interface, its results list is not very informative, and it lacks a preview pane, so I still prefer the more flexible Copernic for searching emails.

However, another powerful rival just arose. Reviewers have regarded the X1 desktop search engine highly for a number of years, and it would have been the editors’ choice more often if it didn’t cost about $75. It’s also the basis for Yahoo’s desktop search offering. Recently, the publisher relented to competition and now offers the X1 Enterprise Client desktop search tool absolutely free. I’ve downloaded a copy (http://www.x1.com/), and I’ll report on it in a future column. For now, though, Copernic 2 remains my desktop search tool of choice.

Remember, you can post your comments and suggestions below. And if you like a shareware or donationware utility and use it beyond the trial period, please pay its publisher.

That's it for now. See you back here on October 10th for more gems from the Internet.

This column first appeared at http://www.elephant.org.il/jonathans_tool_bar_grill.

10 September 2006

#2. We Don't Pay for Zip

Welcome back to the new Tool Bar & Grill, where twice a month I'll present my discoveries in Windows utility software and Web sites that can save time, enhance your computing environment, do something new, or maybe just raise a chuckle. I'll recommend both free and shareware utilities, but will favor freeware wherever it is available.

I can only report to you on the tools that I have encountered and tried. Do you hate a featured utility? Do you have a better one? Please feel free to post your comments and suggestions below. And if you like a shareware or donationware utility and use it beyond the trial period, please pay its publisher.

Free from Compression Oppression

With the plethora of free compression utilities out there, one might wonder why anyone would pay for a zipping program – and I imagine that very few do. A cursory search can turn up a couple of dozen pretty good free utilities for compressing and extracting files. (Most such utilities are free only for private, individual use, so organizations generally buy commercial utilities such as WinZip.) I haven’t tried them all, but among those I’ve tried or read about, my favorite is ZipGenius 6, a Swiss Army Knife of compression utilities.

Like every normal zip utility, ZipGenius compresses files in the standard ZIP format and extracts zipped files. Like most others, it offers shell integration, so that the zipping and extraction options appear on the right-click menu in Windows Explorer and compatible file management utilities. And like most others, ZipGenius also can encrypt compressed files and span disks (that is, save a large zip file in pieces on multiple floppy disks, flash disk keys, or other media of limited size). However, ZipGenius’s functionality goes beyond most of its rivals’.

ZipGenius saves to a large number of compressed file formats in addition to ZIP, including the new 7-Zip format (with significantly higher compression ratios), CAB (for distributing software), JAR, TAR, LZH, and more. It can create encrypted CZIP files using either the ZIP standard or the more advanced BlowFish, TwoFish, or AES algorithms. It reads and extracts a wide range of additional formats, including RAR, ARJ, ACE, and even CD and DVD image files in ISO9660 format.

ZipGenius presents a clear, helpful GUI, including wizards for common activities, and supports drag-and-drop operations. It also provides a built-in backup utility that creates a compressed backup file of the folders you choose.

ZipGenius can test and repair archive files, and can automatically add your signature (such as personal contact information) to every archive. It can acquire images from scanners, cameras, and other TWAIN devices and either compress them into an archive or create a self-playing slide show from them. You can view archived images as thumbnails. And ZipGenius integrates with your antivirus software to scan archives for viruses. ZipGenius is also highly configurable, and I have found it to be entirely reliable and trouble-free.

ZipGenius is donationware: It is completely free, but the publisher (M.Dev Software of Italy) welcomes voluntary contributions through PayPal. You can download ZipGenius at http://www.zipgenius.it or other software distribution sites (like Download.com, Tucows.com, MajorGeeks.com, and others, where it has earned high ratings).

P.S. In researching this column, I came across two other highly recommended compression utilities. IZArc’s compress and extract functions appear to be very robust and it handles the widest variety of formats, though it seems to have fewer extra features and a somewhat less friendly GUI than ZipGenius. 7Zip originated its eponymous tightly squeezed format, but it lacks many of ZipGenius’s bells and whistles.

That zips up this column. Check back here in two weeks for another cool utility!

This column first appeared at http://www.elephant.org.il/jonathans_tool_bar_grill.

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