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Searching With PIMs

People whose livelihood depends on their ability to find files right away are likely to rely on a personal information manager, a program designed to put all sorts of information at your fingertips. Two of the most popular PIMs for Windows are AskSam Systems' AskSam and Micro Logic's Info Select. I wanted to see whether these programs could find my test file attachment and ferret out my "travel book"-related files and Outlook e-mail. Unfortunately, I soon bumped into the biggest obstacle in using a PIM: getting the data into the system.

There's no mistaking the search power of these programs. In the $150 AskSam 5.1 ($395 for the Professional version), you can search for any word or phrase that occurs anywhere in one of the program's databases. It also lets you search for words in proximity, with wild cards for close matching, and with Boolean operators (and, or, not). You can import your Outlook data as well as portions of data files, but much is lost in the conversion to the AskSam format. You end up with your e-mail in one file and your data files in another, so you can't search them both simultaneously.

E-mail reaches a new level with Info Select ($50 per year, $100 for an upgrade, and $250 for a new user license). Besides importing data and settings from Outlook 97 through 2002, the program brings in your e-mail (complete with searchable attachments) from Outlook Express 4 and 5 and Netscape Messenger 4 and 5. To this bonanza, you can add the random bits of information you've collected in the program's notes. Unfortunately, because Info Select isn't designed to import Word or Excel files, it didn't work with the ones in my test folder. (Info Select will import .csv, .dbf, .txt, and RTF files.)

With considerable effort, I managed to import the test Outlook data to both programs, and to load some of the test data files (never the complete contents, however, most likely because of incompatibilities that arose in converting the data to the programs' proprietary file formats). Once the e-mail was loaded, neither PIM had trouble finding the file I was looking for. For modest search needs, however, these applications are overkill.

Dennis O'Reilly is a senior associate editor for PC World.
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