Technology Practice Tips Podcasts

Practical law practice technology concepts in an accessible, conversational manner with Phil Brown and David Whelan

Desktop Search

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Phil and David are back with tips on using your computer, phone, or tablet's search and metadata tools to find your stuff.  If you don't know where something is, or can't browse to it, desktop search can be a third method of retrieving information.  Windows search is much improved and there are other apps and add-ons you can use to find information on your computer and across your network much faster.
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Speaker Key:    PB: Phil Brown, DW: David Whelan

PB:  Hi, it's Phil Brown. I'm here with David Whelan and today we are going to talk about the desktop search.

DW: Once you have put stuff on your computer or device, that's great. Even if you have a great organizing system you are going to spend time trying to get back to wherever it was. The more information you store, and the more different places you store it - in the Cloud, on your local computer, on your phone - the bigger challenge that becomes. LexisNexis has done some surveys in the past. They are called workplace surveys and you can find them on the web. They have done two and one of the recurrent themes about lawyers is how much time they waste trying to find stuff that they know they have, but they just can't figure out where it's gone.

PB: Now, there are a number of different ways to do these desktop searches. Often it is as simple as starting with a little magnifying glass somewhere on your computer.

DW: That's right. The Windows search used to be terrible and people would do almost anything to avoid it, but it has really come along. If you are on Windows 7 or Windows 8 and have turned on the indexing for your computer, it will go through and index all of the locations where it thinks you are storing files. And if you are storing them in different places, you can add those too so that all of those files then become easier to search right from what used to be the run bar. You just click on your Windows key, start typing, and it will start to bring back matching results.

PB: And your index thing, let's talk a little bit more about that. What happens if you do not turn on indexing?

DW: Well, if you do not turn on indexing, then it just looks at what it can find in the file system, e.g. the file name, date it was created - the basic meta-data about the document. But if you turn on the indexing, it will actually go in and look at the contents of those documents and return that, and that can really make it much more functional. And with Windows in particular, you have to go into the advanced settings for the Windows search and turn that on, because otherwise it will just default to indexing file names.

PB: And you can also search for a particular type of file as well.

DW: Right, you can limit it to file type and size so that you can look for really big files or really little files, PDFs versus Word documents, files that were created or modified on a particular date. There are a lot of ways to do that and you can do those searches from pretty much anywhere in Windows. And you can do it in Mac too, can't you?

PB: You can do it in Mac as well. Mac has a function called find and it has gotten better. I don't know if it is particularly scalable or changeable, but you can do a few things. You can tweak it a little bit to perform a batch search and rename a function. It has some other aspects built in, but, again, you have to go into the settings to change things around to get a different kind of search.

DW: The challenge with desktop search is that it is searching just your desktop. It is not searching your phone as well. It is not searching those files in the Cloud. If you use Dropbox, Box, or OneDrive and those files are synchronized to your local machine, then, of course, they will be picked up in that search. But if you are using other services that are in the Cloud and you do a search on your local desktop, it will not necessarily find that. I think that is one of the remaining challenges for desktop search. We are starting to see some of that integration happen, so that, instead of just searching the file system and bringing back those documents that you have properly indexed, you can actually search through your Outlook PST folder of stored emails and some applications, I think, are trying to start to bridge, so that they will also search out onto the web or if they are web-based, they will search back down onto your machine. But I think we went through a high point of some of those things, Cloud-based search, and most of those have disappeared now and so we are still hunting around for the right answer.

PB: Yes, there are some other tools that are (not the Windows search or the Mac find), but there are some other tools out there that have been designed that you can upload to your computer or use in the Cloud.

DW: Right, the interesting one has been the pivot of some of these search tools. X1 is a really good example. X1 is http://www.x1.com, and they were really a desktop search tool that has now become an e-discovery tool because they are so heavily focused on search. Copernic is another one. It's like Copernicus without the "us" on the end. And a lot of lawyers like that one, but you should go for the paid version because the free version is only for personal use. And you need to also watch that some of these will have limitations on how large a document that they will index and so, if you have X1 or Copernic or some of these other tools, make sure that they are indexing the full body, because if you have a long brief it may not get all the way to the end of that document and find the match that you think should be there.

PB: And X1 is also pushing some forensic tools as well for e-discovery to find social media searches and different searches on the internet and, I mean, some of these tools are very scalable. They vary all over the map in terms of price.

DW: Right, one of my favorites, and I will plug it here just because it is free and open-source, is called DocFetcher. It is freely available on the web, but to give you a good idea of how this sort of thing works: it will search over your local drive, it will search over your network drives inside your office, and it can also search inside Outlook PST files all at once. It is not a very nice looking tool - you can get nicer looking search tools, for sure - but it will at least give you a sense of whether there are more productive ways to look for files than merely browsing through your file structure or using the built-in operating system searches.

PB: Right, I like that some of the open-source tools still have that MS-DOS feel to them.

DW: Yes, they are a little on the rough side.

PB: Now, you can also search on your mobile devices as well. I know that the Mac, iPhones, and iPads all have a built-in function where you essentially just pull your screen down towards the bottom and there is a magnifying glass where you can type in a search, and it will search through your music, emails, the web, and any document that you have downloaded to your phone. I am guessing that Android and others have the same.

DW: Right, Android does, for sure. They seem to be going through the same arc of challenges, which is that they are really good at finding things by the name of the file and not necessarily digging as far into the files themselves. But I am sure that that will change, particularly in the Android universe where you have Google powering the operating system. I am sure that they are going to figure out a way to get search down to the nitty-gritty of the files too.

PB: And a lot of those files on your phone, you can tag as well.

DW: Right.

PB: If it is an image, you can tag it. If it is a particular file, PDF, or a document that you have scanned into your phone, those are also tagged, and you can tag them to search them.

DW: Right, and we have talked about tagging on the file management podcast, but it really cannot be overstated. It may sound a little bit social media, web 3.0, but adding that kind of information to the document, words or phrases that are not actually in the document when you are creating or working with the document, can make it so much easier when you are trying to retrieve it later on.

PB: And then the whole idea of saving documents, typically, is that at some point in time you may have to find them again.

DW: Right.

PB: So, it just makes sense to give yourself some memory aids along the way, tie some strings to some posts, just to make that search a little easier later.

DW: And we use search so frequently on the web anyway, that the more you can use it and the more you can become used to using it as a tool on your desktop or device, the better you will be at retrieving that information quickly.

PB: So, I guess the key is to find one of these applications that works best for you, that is within the right price point, that you do not forget to use, and to read the terms of use and things like that so you know if they are selling your information that you have been searching for.

DW: Right, and then use it all the time and you will really find that as your comfort level with it goes up, it will help you to find more information.

PB: Great, that is our look at the desktop search. Thanks, David.

DW: Thanks, Phil.