Internet FastFind: 8 search engines
It's not perfect, but new software allows swift searches of the web,
indexing the information in many different ways
The good news: Search engines make the Web usable. The bad news: Search engines use different commands, and running the same search using multiple engines is a pain. Thus comes Internet FastFind for Windows95 and WindowsNT 4.0 from Symantec Corporation (Cupertino -- www.symantec.com).
Installing IFF from CD-ROM is quick and easy. One of the first things I did was run LiveUpdate, Symantec's product-update service. LiveUpdate automatically connected me to Symantec's FTP (File Transfer Protocol) server; downloaded the latest software; and updated IFF from version 1.0 to 1.0a.
IFF is a collection of several Internet access utility programs that work with both Microsoft Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator. The most important is WebFind, a powerful tool for simplifying Web searches.
When you perform a search with WebFind, it fires off simultaneous queries to major search engines (currently AltaVista, Excite, HotBot, Infoseek, Lycos, Magellan, WebCrawler and Yahoo). As the engines report their findings, WebFind creates an HTML document with the results, ranking pages and removing duplicates. The last 10 WebFind documents are saved so you can review the results of previous searches.
You can specify three ways search terms should be treated: all words but in any order ("and" search); at least one word ("or" search); exact phrase (the search is sent only to engines supporting this feature). You can limit the number of matches to be returned by each site as well as the amount of time WebFind should spend running the searches.
Page references are grouped by site. The sites having the most page references are listed first, so you can readily see which companies and organizations have the most to offer in the area you are researching.
As with Web searching generally, more precise searches produce more useful results. A search for "IRS" and "forms" returned many Web page references with little value. On the other hand, a search for "EDGAR" and "SEC" properly identified the SEC site (www.sec.gov) and a commercial site, Edgar-Online (www.edgar-online.com). Similarly, a search for the phrase "California Bar Journal" put the State Bar of California's site (www.calbar.org) at the top of the list.
Other IFF programs include NetFileFind for locating a file when you know its name but not its Internet location; EasyFTP for gaining access to FTP sites using standard Windows Explorer methods; PatchConnect for downloading software updates from vendors' Web and FTP sites; Notify for monitoring changes to Web pages, FTP sites, folders and files; WebLaunch for opening Web pages from the Windows taskbar; and EasyZIP for compressing and decompressing files.
IFF is not perfect. Lycos searches appear to go into loops, never returning any results. Being limited to "and," "or" and phrase searches means that advanced search-engine capabilities are not fully exploited. And the WebFind button mysteriously disappeared from my Navigator title bar, requiring, somewhat inconveniently, that I start IFF to run WebFind.
Nevertheless, the product offers real benefits -- imagine the ability to search LEXIS and WESTLAW at the same time and get the results in a single list. (Now there's an idea for a forward-thinking software developer! Is anyone at the LEXIS/West duopoly listening?) If you spend lots of time searching for Web sites, you ought to give IFF ($49.95 estimated retail price) a try.
Dana H. Shultz is an Oakland-based lawyer, certified management consultant and speaker specializing in office technology and online marketing. He may be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on the World Wide Web at http://seamless.com/ds/.