Monday, January 09, 2006

Pervasive Search

One of my good friends has a great expression when he sees some really cool technology goodie that we'll get "Real Soon Now": "I want to live there!".

One of the touted features of the next version of Windows is pervasive search, or search at the operating system level. I was skeptical of the value of this feature. After all, we now have Google Desktop, right? I can search and find documents pretty quickly now.

However, what's missing from Google Desktop is the "pervasive" part. I didn't fully appreciate this missing element until I started using the Mac, because Mac OS X now has Spotlight, Apple's version of pervasive search. Spotlight has a little icon on the menubar to let you search for stuff, just like Google search. But the pervasive part is more useful to me. Check out the standard Mac save dialog:


Because search is embedded at the OS level, I can use search to save files instead of navigating my document hierarchy. When I save a file on the Mac now, I search for the folder in which I know it belongs, then I name the file. It's not like I fear or don't understand hierarchies in a file system. But why bother doing all that navigation? I know where I want to put it, and the OS should be smart enough to let me tell it without all the ceremony. That's pervasive search, and it has changed the way I use my computer. Now, I can't wait until my work OS catches up to what is one of my favorite features of my favorite OS.

Not that Spotlight is perfect yet. It's annoyingly slow, and it sometimes yields some false positives. That irritates me. But, the benefit outweighs the annoyance factor by a lot. And I doubt that the first version of pervasive search in Windows will work perfectly either. I view this as a "I want to live there" feature: I can't wait until I can stop navigating hierarchies most of the time.

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