I’m skittish when it comes to desktop indexing and search apps. Aside from the workstation computer at my last office-based job, I don’t generally keep any running on my computers, whether Windows or Mac-based machines. I just don’t find the need for anything more heavyweight and resource-sapping than what Spotlight or Explorer’s built-in search functions provide. So let’s just say that Exalead Desktop Search was already operating at a disadvantage when I set about giving it a look for the purposes of this blog post, but I was pleasantly surprised.
I was impressed when Exalead detected and offered to index my Thunderbird mailbox during the first run setup wizard. If there’s one thing I shy away from more than desktop indexing applications, it’s the various incarnations of Microsoft Outlook. Of course, Thunderbird’s latest beta allows you to index your accounts for use with Vista’s built-in search, so it’s not critical functionality. Still, better available than not.
I was using my Eee PC as the test device for Exalead, and it wouldn’t proceed with indexing until I connected with a power source, which is something I’m not used to doing, with the eight hour battery on my 1000HE. Still, I suppose they have the user’s interests in mind, so it’s not really that big of an issue. Indexing didn’t take long, although I honestly don’t have much stored on my netbook, aside from my overgrown inbox archive. I also didn’t notice much slowdown of other processes like Firefox, though my usage was admittedly light. It might also help that I’m using a 4GB SD card as a dedicated device to speed up my system with Windows ReadyBoost.
Like other indexing apps, Exalead places an icon in the notification area of your taskbar. Left-clicking once will activate a search, while right-clicking will bring up Exalead’s settings. Back when I was using Windows Desktop Search, I never liked having the search bar in my taskbar, so I don’t miss it here, although some might. Instead, when you click on the icon, you open up a new browser tab or window that shows a search bar page with a local address. You can also search the web, images and Wikipedia from this launch page, among others.
Exalead’s decision to use the browser is both its biggest advantage and most significant drawback. It keeps the app lightweight, ensuring that it won’t hog system resources like Google Desktop and other more cumbersome programs. On the other hand, it also feels a little clunky and slow, taking away from the advantage of having a desktop indexer in the first place.
On the other hand, the results page is very thorough, with your results on the right occupying most of the page, complete with links, dates, brief summaries, associated locations, authors, recipients (for emails) and thumbnails (if applicable). On the right, you can narrow your search in a number of ways, by isolating different sources, searching within your returned results, choosing different file types, dates, sizes, etc. If you don’t like the default view, you can switch to text-only results, too. And all the while, I didn’t hear the engine rev once, which is what keeps me away from these apps in the first place.
If I had to use a desktop indexing and search program (and the more work I do on Windows, the closer I get to that day), I would probably use Exalead now that I’ve tried it out, because it least resembles other resource sapping apps I’ve used in the past. If you’re looking for a lightweight alternative to the main competitors in this space, give it a shot. Best of all, it won’t cost you anything for the free version, although professional and white label versions are available if you want to deploy it enterprise-wide or are shopping for a custom-branded solution for a client.
Do you use a desktop indexing search app?