Exalead Desktop, Version 4.6

Browser-based, unique navigation system

Exalead is built around an intuitive, browser-based interface that's modeled after the company's Web search portal. This convenient design lets you search your desktop and external Web sites from one place.

Best desktop search tools

For a free product, Exalead Desktop is no slouch. It recognizes more than 120 file formats, including Microsoft Office, PDF, OpenOffice; a variety of image, audio and video files; plus HTML, XML and Adobe Flash. Furthermore, the software indexes e-mail, attachments, and notes from Outlook, Microsoft Exchange, Mozilla Thunderbird and Lotus Notes. I had no issues using Internet Explorer 8, Apple Safari 4, and Firefox 3.6 with Exalead.

Similar to other vendors, Exalead offers a licensed enterprise server product (price quoted based on configuration), Exalead CloudView. It collects structured and unstructured data from most any source within an organization and allows it to be searched from the single browser interface. In the middle you'll find the Professional Edition ($60 per user). It indexes more than 300 file formats, offers IT departments managed deployment, and integrates with Stellent content management systems (part of Oracle).

Exalead is a small download and ready for work in a few minutes. After selecting the folders to index, the system completed its initial crawl in about 30 minutes. There's no limit to the number of documents – and content can be stored on local hard disks, network drives, and attached storage, such as USB drives.

Exalead is specially optimized for multi-core or multi-processor PCs. This architecture enables real-time indexing without degraded performance to keep results up-to-date. For instance, I found an e-mail that I was in the middle of writing.

After performing a search, the main display shows a thumbnail image, text summary and details about the file or message. File-type icons and document previews with the search term highlighted further help you judge whether you've found the right document without opening it.

Most important, Exalead was one of the early pioneers in faceted (or pivot) navigation of search results, and that design continues to distinguish the product. This means you refine searches by clicking on related terms or classifications that appear in a navigation panel. For example, you could narrow results to show just those e-mail messages from a colleague – or find documents created on a specific date.

Exalead approaches advanced search differently from most other products. Instead of a form with a lot of options, you get one pop-up form with about 20 possible options. Say you want to perform a phonetic spelling. If you click that option, Exalead automatically fills in the correct syntax within the search box (soundslike:) and you simply type the word. Additionally, a built-in spell checker learns from the terms in your documents, which helps eliminate spelling errors in search queries.

The free version has some good security, which is important in a business setting, especially where employees share computers. For instance, it respects the access rights for the user who is logged in, so results won't include private files of others. And the software does not index cached or secure Web pages.

Exalead provides a surprising number of features that are surrounded by rich navigation that helps a user quickly refine results. If you go with the no-cost download, it's hard to argue with the value it provides.

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