[This post originally appeared on Slaw.ca, May 15, 2014]
Lawyers want to find information quickly. I often hearken back to now-increasingly dated LexisNexis workplace productivity surveys – 2008 and 2010 – for data on this need. Desktop search periodically raises its profile as one of the tools that lawyers can use. Vivian Manning and Catherine Sanders Reach have both taken a look at some of the tools commonly discussed in legal circles and they provide a good short list of products to review.
We had a recent need for a simple tool to roll out to a small group of researchers and decided to take a look at desktop search again. For me, it had mostly fallen off the radar when Google Desktop shuttered in 2011. I took notice of a bunch of the cloud search apps – like Greplin and Cloud Magic – because they seemed to offer a similar function for cloud-based content. Both have disappeared or changed their offering. If you’re looking for search in the cloud, you might look at StartHQ which is taking a run at it.
The paid products like X1 and Copernic are still out there, and nice to see X1 embraces its ediscovery possibilities in its branding. I started by looking at our free options, though, and in particular, Windows’ own search.
Searching in Windows
I normally avoid Windows search. It’s one of those things that, when it doesn’t work for you at one point, it is hard to come back to. Windows 7 search is better than previous versions and it’s easy enough to use. Also, it’s built into the operating system and free.
There are a couple of tweaks you will want to make to really get the benefit of it, though. First, click on your Windows button (the little round one in the corner) and type index where it says Search programs and files. That is where you can search for your files too. But, by default, Windows search only searches the file names and metadata, not the content, of the file. When you type in index, you should see a result appear that says Indexing options. Select it, choose the Advanced button at the bottom of the screen, and when the Advanced window opens, select the File Types tab. At the bottom, select index properties and file contents. Now your index will include the contents of your files.
You can read about this and other advanced indexing options. Microsoft has some other tips to help you customize search. But one thing I wanted to understand was how to search a network file share. If you are storing your work on your network – or if your staff are storing their files there – you may want to search that in addition to your local files.
If you can access the files on your network, you should also be able to map the location of those files. This means you give the location a drive letter (C: is your hard drive’s letter). Once the location is mapped, you can right click on the new drive letter and select Always available offline. Your offline files will be included in your index.
Open Source Desktop Search
That seems a bit cumbersome and, to be honest, there is no need for offline files in our situation other than for indexing. I looked around for an open source desktop search to see if there was something that would do what we needed in a pretty easy application.
I found Docfetcher, a desktop search tool that fits the bill. It will search local files or network shares and creates a full text searchable index. I’m not a big fan of its need for Java but we have that in our environment already so it’s not an added burden.
It can create an index quickly and supports lots of customization to filter out certain files. In some ways, it is more complicated than we need and if we were really going to index a large network share with a variety of files, it may be too complicated. However, our need is to search a single folder with a huge number of PDFs. This means that setting up the index – once per computer – doesn’t require any filters or customization.
You can determine whether spaces are treated as AND or OR in the search. Results are highlighted in the preview screen below the search results and you can page through the document preview without opening the remote file. As you can see in the screenshot above, there is also plenty of metadata with each result in the list.
At the time of writing, we haven’t decided what we will use for this project. But I’m adding Docfetcher to my personal desktop for quick access to files on my network shares and local drive. It’s superior to Windows’ own search and free. Since all of my cloud files are synchronized to my desktop, I can be sure I’m finding cloud content too. I wasn’t looking for a desktop search tool but I’m looking forward to see if it improves my ability to find and retrieve information quickly.