Desktop search: from Lookout and back again

So I started using Outlook as my main email application over 2 years ago. For the most part I’m happy with it, but the built-in search leaves a lot to be desired. OS X’s Mail does search very well in comparison. So much so that since I do check email on both platforms, I’ll sometimes switch over to Mail to find something that’s a little harder to nail down in Outlook. Especially as you start getting a lot of email in a single folder. You enter your search time and wait…and wait…and wait…while the application pulls up the relevant results.

Years ago, I was happy with Lookout for searching emails. Very fast, searches files too. Then the folks who wrote Lookout sold out to Microsoft. When Microsoft buys a technology, they pick off the meat and throw the rest out. Nevermind that what they throw out are features that people actually like and use. They’re Microsoft, they don’t have to care. The only exception I can think of is FolderShare, where they kept the functionality intact but just made it free. Maybe it will be rolled into Vista in some form, but if you used FolderShare before you’re not missing much now.

So Lookout stopped development in favor of Windows Desktop Search. I’ve tried it a few times. Sure, it’s prettier. Sure, it has a preview window. But it’s slow and like other desktop search products, it takes whatever CPU it can steal to do its indexing. Worse, you can’t really see what it’s doing. So if it doesn’t index a file, you can’t tell why not.

Thinking Lookout abandoned, I tried Copernic Desktop Search. Real pretty interface. Slow. I eventually settled on the full version of X1 because it did one thing the other utilities (except for Lookout) didn’t…keep an index of PSTs files that weren’t actively open in Outlook. If you’re like me and you archive your email every few months but still need to search on it, this is huge.

Lately, X1 has been driving me batty. It has made Outlook unstable, and the development has been stagnant. They’re focused on Enterprise search, and have lost sight of what makes search usable. It’s buggy and the interface is inflexible. And it’s another one of those applications that can bog a system down while it’s indexing.

I tried Google Desktop a couple of times. Don’t like it at all. First of all, it doesn’t index archived PST files. Second, desktop search results in a browser don’t work for me. What if I want to look for all email from Nancy received during the month of March that didn’t talk about scheduling? Can’t be done in GDS. Search results come in the order that Google decides is relevant to the search, not me. And I have no need for the sidebar or gadgets.

So what am I using now to index and search 43,000 saved emails and “My Documents” folder? Lookout. Turns out the last version released before Microsoft swooped in is still available, you just have to use it knowing it won’t be supported or developed. Until I upgrade to Office 2007, I guess I can live with that. I forgot just how incredibly fast it is. I wish there was a previewing results, but it doesn’t take that much to double click to see if it’s the right email. I almost forgot how quiet my computer can be without the constant disk activity of something indexing something all the time.


2 responses to “Desktop search: from Lookout and back again”

  1. Thanks for being the other “Lookout” user on the net. I thought for some time I was the only one left. Lookout does exactly what a search program is supposed to do and not any of the other frills that eat time and machine cycles.

    I use it many times per day, I hope some other converts read this and give it a try.

    Years ago I was in a government organization when they switched to Outlook. My deputy, who was a little more computer-savvy than he liked to pretend had troubles every day with Outlook. He took to intentionally calling it “Lookout”. I never do a search today without thinking of him and those early days of Outlook with a grin.

  2. The one thing I don’t like about Lookout is that you can’t page through the search results. Each result is opened in a separate email window.

    With Outlook’s Advanced Find, you can use the up/down arrows to cycle through the results in a single message window.

    Otherwise, Lookout rocks and Outlook users really should be running this since it’s such a steal.