Searching Files

by JL Beeken on 3-01-2010

For those still floundering in genealogy file overload and general disorganization—

The general file challenge breaks down into 3 parts: naming your files, organizing your files and searching your files. And then, if you have any time left over, linking them to your genealogy database. And if you’re really far ahead of the game, doing creative projects with them.

Today, I’ll revisit searching files and see what’s new.

Copernic Desktop SearchCopernic is probably the best desktop search software there is. It automatically creates an index of your choice of folders on your hard-drive (and other drives if you want it to) and puts an optional search bar at the bottom of your screen. Under Tools/Options are a list of simple choices. Set that up and you’re ready to go.

For about 52,000 files and 857,000 keywords it took four days to complete my index, working in the background. Not a long time at all but I changed the default location under ‘Advanced’ to create the index in a folder under My Documents so I can keep a backup of it for future OS re-installations.

Copernic Desktop Search

A few months ago, Copernic v.2 updated to v.3 which amounted to a freeware downgrade. The free version subtracted a few useful features and a Pro version hit the scene costing  $50. This is a lesson in keeping a folder of installers. If you’re surprised by an unwelcome upgrade, you can immediately downgrade and stay happy.

Windows Search 4 has a nice clean interface but there’s no point doing a search that leads me to a 200-page document without highlighting the search term. Copernic is still a better choice by miles when it comes to documents. Windows Search 4 does an amazing job on images, however, which I’ll get to.

I also installed Google Desktop Search to have another look. Google is famous for gadgets and there’s a ton of them so there’s that to enhance or clutter your desktop, whichever way you see it. It will certainly index your computer files and make them search-able.

The benefit of desktop search is that it doesn’t matter what you name your files or where you keep them you can bypass the first two challenges and still search them. Especially non-image files. The downside is that deleting or moving files doesn’t clear out your index or update instantly.

Copernic can search parts of words, whole words, and words inside documents or file-names. You can search a person’s name and it will bring up a document where the person is named on, say, page 181 highlighted in yellow. Or highlighted in several places in several documents and you can click through them. How else are you going to know who’s living in your documents? It would be insane. I have a PDF on Northumberland Co., PA history that’s over 4,000 pages. It will also search inside XML and CSV files, probably not high on a genealogist’s list but mind-boggling to consider.

The default Windows Search does as well as anything for finding documents and text inside documents but it doesn’t highlight the text inside.

If you want to keep track of where your documents come from, add that in as you collect them so it’s search-able. The other benefit is that it leaves a trail. I’ve heard of people using Windows File Properties for this purpose and it scares me. What happens when you put these files on CD? The info is gone, isn’t it? What happens when your computer crashes? Do you have a backup of it?

I don’t name my photos by people’s names, so how can I search those?

Well, if you’ve been following along with IPTC and adding captions and keywords to your photographs, Copernic will also search inside those, although only on JPGs. It will show thumbnails of TIFFs and other image formats if you search a term that’s in the file-name but it will leave out anything that’s not.

And there’s no such thing as IPTC for GIFs or BMPs. So, Copernic is really good for searching documents but only half-way there for photos. If you want to scoop up the documents and send them elsewhere as a group, you can only move them one at a time. Overall, it’s a good desktop search engine, but missing a few useful features. Maybe they’re in the Pro upgrade that I’m not using?

Google Desktop Search works about the same on documents. It will search them inside and out and tell you where they’re located. Although it doesn’t highlight search terms which leaves me too much in the dark. On images it’s a little different. It will search IPTC captions on JPGs and TIFFs and present them in your browser as the Description under the file-names. This is not terribly useful either unless you’re only looking for one photo at a time. I don’t see a way to gather up a bunch at once.

Google Desktop Search

If you want a more thorough search of IPTC-embedded information in TIFFs you’ll need some dedicated software. And you might as well search your JPGs and PNGs at the same time. My favorite is Photo Mechanic. If you need something for free, get XnView which comes in both Desktop and Portable versions. You can do complex search patterns using XnView and by-pass the frustration of the other options.

XnView is not a desktop search engine. It’s simply a small program that will reflect the location of your photographs and their embedded information as they exist in real time.

When XnView starts running your search it looks like there’s no matching items. It actually says ‘Found 0 matching item(s)’. But really what it’s doing is running. It’s not finished until the Stop button goes away.

When your results show up in the Browser, you can select them all, right-click and copy to a folder of your choice.

The default Search option in Windows XP is very slow but … and this really surprised me … it found 5 TIFF files where the search term I used was only in the embedded IPTC caption. So, there’s another option for searching inside images. According to my tests it does seem to work on captions only.

Windows Search 4

Windows Search 4 is miles ahead with search. Not only does it bring up IPTC captions, (“Comments”) keywords, and Source on JPGs but it also works for TIFFs. It’s also very fast.

You can select a group of photos, right-click and copy them to another location. The main problem I’m having here is that it’s pulling information from an older version of my metadata (somewhere) that goes back at least two months. I was going to say it could be a useful tool to see where you have missing metadata but if it’s bringing up information you’ve already changed that isn’t going to help you. This product has been out for two years and it still doesn’t work properly? Is anyone having a different experience with it?

Between Copernic for documents and XnView for images, you’re pretty well covered. But, you’ve still got your IPTC annotating to do. Unless you want to try to fit all the requisite information into long file-names and/or accompanying text files. You can’t search what you don’t have.

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