Search tools find what you need to read

Smothering under an avalanche of useless Internet hits that steal
your valuable time? Suffer no longer


To find truly useful material on the World Wide Web, there's no
need to wade through bad pointers, abandoned sites, poorly maintained catalogs, vacuous
vanity pages and infomercials disguised as frequently asked questions.


Here are several tools to help you find the information you need almost anywhere on
networks. Keep in mind that more tools arrive on the scene daily.


. When I began to write this article, I ran tests to find the most appropriate Internet
search engines for certain types of searches. The results uniformly disappointed me. All
the engines returned thousands of hits, redundant pages and precious little relevant
information.


For example, when I asked for information about BNC connectors and 10Base-T cabling,
Lycos Inc.'s site produced 66,897 hits, of which a single page was useful.


Yahoo's site found only 118 matches, none useful. A new engine called LookSmart at http://www.looksmart.com did no better. Digital
Equipment Corp.'s AltaVista site gave me two good pages out of 55,000.


. Many offline software packages support meta-searching, or simultaneous searching of
multiple sites. Not all meta-search packages are equal. Some use a subset of the major
engines, others allow users to add as many engines as they wish.


Because many products in this category simply piggyback on standard Internet search
engines, they magnify the strengths and weaknesses of the underlying engines. They
generate just as many garbage hits, only faster.


The advantage is that they eliminate duplicate hits and let you submit queries to
multiple sites.


WebCompass from Quarterdeck Corp. of Marina del Rey, Calif., lets you organize a query
offline and then submit it to 35 search engines simultaneously. WebCompass connects to
each site to make sure the link is live, then ranks and analyzes the results.


You can use these results to refine follow-up searches. Searches aren't limited to Web
pages-WebCompass also searches UseNet, gopher and File Transfer Protocol sites.


Internet FastFind from Symantec Corp. of Cupertino, Calif., is a collection of Internet
search and access utilities that search, monitor and download files from Web and FTP
sites. The WebFind application uses eight search engines to scour the Web for matches,
ranks the results and removes duplicate hits.


If you know all or part of a filename, the Symantec suite's NetFileFind and EasyFTP can
download it for you. I didn't find EasyFTP intuitive when I logged on to a site to grab a
file, but these utilities worked just fine otherwise.


The Notify component monitors files, folders, FTP sites and Web pages for changes. The
suite has several other Internet utilities, making it a good value. Although you must
access the individual utilities through a single console, they are well-integrated. A
minor drawback: You can't add to the search engine library.


NetFerret Suite from FerretSoft Inc. of Pickerington, Mass., is another Internet client
collection.


Its six lean, mean search machines plunder the Web, UseNet, Internet relay chat (IRC)
and FTP sites for documents, program files, phone numbers and e-mail addresses.


The programs share look and feel and are so easy that online help files are
superfluous. NetFerret client programs submit your search criteria to 11 search engines
and return usable results faster than any other program tested.


You can't employ advanced search techniques or complex queries, though. You can specify
the search engines NetFerret uses, but you can't add to the engine library.


NetFerret Suite has more search utilities than any other product reviewed. For example,
enter an individual's last name and location, and EmailFerret finds and lists e-mail
addresses matching your criteria. Optional first names and organizational affiliations can
narrow the search.


FileFerret uses FTP search services such as Filez, Jumbo and Archie servers to locate
and download files. IRCFerret searches IRC networks such as EFnet, DALnet and Undernet to
pinpoint the whereabouts of your chat companions.


NewsFerret finds and decodes UseNet articles by searching newsgroup subject lines.
Double-click listed articles to read and save to your hard drive. You must have access to
a UseNet news server that carries the targeted UseNet group for NewsFerret to work there.


PhoneFerret searches through several online phone catalogs. Enter a person's name and
location, and PhoneFerret finds the telephone number.


To my surprise, these online references often proved more accurate than expensive
CD-ROM phone directories, but PhoneFerret doesn't find organizational or business numbers.


Intranet search tools. The borderlines of the desktop, the enterprise and the
Internet are melting. It's not unusual for intelligent agents today to examine user
systems and automatically upgrade programs, apply patches or install new drivers as the
system hardware changes.


You can distribute internal documents around the world with the click of a mouse.
"Where in the world did I file that document?" is no longer just a figure of
speech.


CyberSearch from Frontier Technologies Corp. of Mequon Wis., searches for files not
only on the Internet but on LANs or hard drives, all from the same interface.


The program indexes content as well as filenames. This is resource-intensive, and the
index file will be about 20 percent as big as the original content-indexing a gigabyte of
data creates a 200M file.


To save time, you can specify the directories, file types, and local or network drives
to index during off-peak hours. Search parameters are repeatable.


CyberSearch includes bookmark management tools for one-click access to your most
frequently used sites. You can import existing bookmarks from Web browsers. Search
results, bookmarks and feature controls appear in a single interface called the Organizer.
You can configure CyberSearch to monitor not only Internet sites for file changes but
local resources, too.


Likewise, TurboFind from Alpha Software Publishing of Burlington, Mass., can locate and
view files, Web pages and e-mail on hard drives, local area networks or the Internet.


A built-in viewer shows files produced by desktop applications. Not only does TurboFind
locate the files, it lets you read them even if you don't have a copy of the application
in which they were produced.


TurboFind can use up to seven of the major search engines to query the Internet, but in
sequence, not in parallel like most offline utilities. On the other hand, you can develop
complex TurboFind queries with its more than two dozen advanced operators for local
searches such as near, notsame and adjacent.


If you're looking for scientific or technical references, demographic data, or
statistical compilations, consider an online database service. The cost per minute of
access may be high, but so is the personnel cost of hours of circular Net searching.


The Dialog Information Retrieval Service of Knight-Ridder Information Inc. of Mountain
View, Calif., has more than 450 databases covering a broad range of disciplines. This is
the only major information provider whose databases are all accessible through a Web
browser. Call 800-334-2564 for subscription information or visit http://www.krinfo.com/.


The DataTimes information network in Oklahoma City has 5,000 resources: regional,
national and international newspapers, magazines, real-time news wires, trade
publications, financial information, newsletters and broadcast transcripts. You must
access the databases via modem or Telnet. Call 800-642-2525 for subscription information
or visit http://www.dc.enews.com/clusters/datatimes/home.HTML.


The Lexis-Nexis online service in Dayton, Ohio, has legal, news and business
information services. Lexis-Nexis references more than 5,800 regional, national and
international newspapers, news wires, magazines, trade journals and business publications,
of which 3,700 appear in their entirety.


Lexis-Nexis is a division of Reed Elsevier PLC, owner of GCN. Not all Lexis-Nexis
services are available through Web browsers; some resources must be accessed by Telnet or
dialup connections. For information, call 800-227-4908 or visit http://www.lexis-nexis.com.


The best tool for your search depends on the job at hand. If you're looking for a
document that you're sure is on the Web, WebCompass will be the tool of choice. If you
want to search local assets as well as the Internet, TurboFind is a good selection.


Symantec's Internet FastFind is more flexible than NetFerret Suite. However, if I were
forced to pick just one of them, I would go with NetFerret Suite. It's cheap, simple and
fast, and it retrieves a broader range of information than the other products.


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