“In praise of full inboxes”

I didn’t write that, it was written by Slacker Manager, and its a fun little read. You’ll see I even posted a comment on his blog….

But, its really fascinating to watch email evolve when people are given a tool like email search. The first reaction people have is, “cool!”…. But then, over the coming weeks and months, people’s habits actually change. Slowly, our shackles (folders) become unnecessary, and we’re free to not worry so much about where we left stuff. After 3-4 months, users invariably report back that they don’t rely on folders nearly as much.

I’m no genius; I didn’t think of this brilliant idea. But its nice to know that something you had a part of could actually change the world (gross over-dramatization there), even if it is in just some small way.

Lookout Review in CNET

Another Desktop Search Review came out this week, and this one is from CNET.

Lookout didn’t fare as well in this review, where it ranked 3rd in a field of 5 (6 if you count Google, but they didn’t really review Google.

The reviewer was reviewing “products that index your hard drive”, and cited a few Lookout weaknesses, including lack of searching outside of outlook, not having the files/attachments indexed by default, and not having a file preview pane (fair enough). I think given that Lookout is clearly focused more at email indexing, this is not too surprising.

The reviewer never contacted Microsoft or Lookoutsoft for comment.

But its interesting to see the individual reviewer’s own bias in these tests. (Of course, I’m probably just bummed because Lookout wasn’t first!)

For example, the reviewer’s test had a corpus of “129 emails”. How can anyone review an email search tool with a corpus of only 129 emails? Do you have only 129 emails in your mailbox? The last time I saw a mailbox that small was the morning I started at Microsoft. Before the end of the day, my mailbox was larger than that!! So for this reviewer, he was searching for files. OK. Thats his slant.

Another interesting thing is that he didn’t even mention how well you can manipulate results once you’ve opened them. This indicates to me that he doesn’t really use a search product himself. We can all do the cursory glance at a product, and see which features “look nice”, but when you actually use it on a day-to-day basis, which one is most useful? This author didn’t mention the fact that you can’t drag-and-drop items from search result lists, or that you can’t delete/move/copy/reply/reply-all/etc from several of these products.

Anyway, I think the review was pretty fair for who searches filesystem stuff best. I hope to see a review sometime soon where the reviewer really gets a realistic view of how email fits into a worker’s daily life. Its easy to superficially “search my hard drive”. But, I don’t think thats nearly as big of a problem as “where is that email that Bob sent me with the accounting figures?” I’d love to see someone rank these products based on the latter.

Google Desktop Search Review

News just in- Google has released its long awaited Desktop Search product today. I’ve been very eager to see this product, so its exciting that its finally here!!

Here are a few notes for Lookout fans.

What’s Cool about it:

Features
Indexes your files (including word, excel, powerpoint, and text), your browser history, email (outlook or outlook express), chat logs (AOL).

Integrated with Web User Interface
The interface to Google’s Desktop Search is exactly the same as their existing interface at http://www.google.com. Further, search results from your desktop look identical to those on the web, and are integrated into your existing web queries. Much the same way that Google “news results” show at the top of the search result list, desktop search results also now show at the top of the list. (See screenshot)

Lightweight
Once again, Google did a great job creating a small and lightweight product. The download is less than 500KB, installed its about 1.5MB. Once installed, the indexer runs in the background, and is not noticible. The installation is quick and easy – almost no effort at all.

What’s Not Cool about it:

Web Integration
The web-integrated user interface falls short for me for email searching. For example, say you are an Outlook user, and you want to do a search. First, you need to switch from Outlook over to the web browser. Search results are displayed only 10 results at a time (like a web page), and can only be sorted by date or by relevance (can’t sort by sender, recipient, subject, type, etc). When you do find what you are looking for, you can open it, which shows you the mail item rendered in the browser as HTML. To really use the item, you now have to click again.

Also somewhat limiting is that search results are not very actionable. Once you’ve viewed the item in HTML, you can reply, reply all, forward, or view it in Outlook. You cannot move the item, copy it, or delete it.

One interesting good feature is the “View entire thread” action which surfaces when a message is part of a larger thread. Clicking this view, allows you to see a summary of all other messages with the same subject. Its a very primitive threading UI today, but hopefully they will expand on this in the future.

Summary: email users are left with disappointing navigation through search results, and a ‘two click’ requirement to get to an email.

Advanced Search is AWOL
Unfortunately, the product has no advanced searching capabilities. What if you want to search for “emails from Bob”, “subjects containing ‘deadline'”, or for messages with attachments? Wildcard searching is also not available.

Summary: Its surprising that Google, the King of Searching, missed out on this capability.

Can’t search contacts or calendar
Unfortunately, while they did integrate email searching, you still can’t search for calendar or contact entries in your mailbox.

How does it differ from Lookout?

Google and Lookout take a fundamentally different approach to how we find content.

Google’s belief is that the Web is the killer app. All users will start with Web Searching, and then they use their strength in that area to show a little bit of Desktop search. For this reason, the Google user interface is the same interface as their web interface. If you believe the web search interface is the right one for your email, then Google’s product is great. As you do your web searching, you’ll now have your searches augmented with desktop results as well.

Lookout’s belief is that Email is the killer app, and that email searching and web searching have fundamental differences. As such, Lookout integrates tightly into Outlook for easy access (just click on the toolbar inside outlook), allows email-specific searches (like searching for senders, recipients, etc), allows users to act on search results in email-centric ways (such as reply, forward, move, delete, print, etc), and allows users to sort results in email-centric ways (sort by sender, recipient, subject, folder, etc)

Summary

Good entry-level product for Google. Great web-integration. I believe this product will change the way users use the web, and I look forward to seeing future products! I’m disappointed that it didn’t do more to really search your desktop. Its too web centric.

The biggest strength for Google is that it is so lightweight. Because it seems to run without interfering at all, users will not mind running it in conjunction with other products. Even if Google doesn’t yet offer all the features that a user needs, users may be perfectly satisfied to run two products – leveraging Google’s web integration strengths and also strengths from competing products.

Your Anti Virus Program is a Virus

I had a couple of reports over the last few days that the Lookout install was infected with some sort of trojan or virus. This is very alarming, of course! So we looked into it seriously.

What we found, is a bug in Symantec. On Aug 9th, the corporate edition of their anti-virus software published a new definition file of viruses, which incorrectly diagnosed the Lookout installer as containing a virus. This has apparently been fixed in their Aug 10, rev 23 update of that file.

The particular file that was declared a virus was “nsisdl.dll”. Its a part of the NSIS installer, which is used by Lookout, but was written by the WinAmp team. From reading around the net, you can see that their product (as well as all other products that use NSIS) were suddenly hit by the antivirus product.

What the antivirus product does is to delete the files which contain “bad stuff” – and they do it automatically. And the definition of “bad stuff” is auto-updated behind your back. I sure hope they don’t make mistakes like this very often. What would happen if your trusted anti virus folks made a more serious blunder? What would happen if some hacker figured out how to edit that file (its probably signed to avoid tampering). Shoot – with this powerful antivirus software running on your system, who needs a virus program? If I were a hacker, I’d spend all my time disecting the virus definition file from Symantec, and trying to change it on their site. It would be hard word, but if you were successful, it would be the worst nightmare ever. Symantec has taken care of the distribution problem for you – just flip a couple of bits and that “anti” virus becaomes the virus itself.

But you know, I’m paranoid. I guess false positives are part of the world we live in. Sucks.

Lookout Mentions

Its always fun, although perhaps somewhat narcisistic, to see who is writing about Lookout :-)

Today I ran into a nice mini review of Lookout and other tools. Lookout wins!

And here is another from a guy that uses Lookout + Newsgator.

Another satisfied user says that Lookout “doesn’t suck”, is fast and worth the price.

Scott Waterman wrote this great entry comparing Lookout to Gmail. Nice to be considered among the big boys!

And I guess Scott’s article prompted this nice review too.

Another guy says that “Lookout is [his] best friend”

Here’s one about a guy taking a stroll down memory lane due to all the stuff he can now drudge up via Lookout.

Here is another fan that says he “heartily recommends” Lookout.

And here is one more nice writeup which was just posted today!

And amazingly, all of those are just in June!

Why do I search for all these entries? Well, its partly because its fun to read nice comments about your work. But its also because I’m deadly paranoid that someone out there ran into some wierd problem that I haven’t otherwise heard of yet – and I’m searching for it. But, so far, while I’ve found all these nice, warm-fuzzy reviews, I haven’t seen anyone saying anything bad. Phew!

And I really like this last one, because Lookout was the impetus for his very first blog entry! How flattering!

Bring on the competition

No good product is left uncopied!

Google
We met with Google. I guess they liked our idea. In the last week, Google’s Puffin project has received a lot of press. News of the project was apparently leaked to the press, so details are sketchy. But, it sounds like a neat idea. Here are some press thoughts. Don’t forget – Lookout did it first! :-)

Microsoft
And now, Microsoft is entering the arena too! Here is the latest press release today.

Does this spell trouble for Lookout? I don’t think so. I think it means good things are going to happen. We’ll all soon have a better email/search experience! We’ll go home earlier! We’ll be less addicted to email! (Ok – well, hopefully someone will benefit that way…)

Well, thats what I hope for, of course…. And I hope lookout fairs well too!