So what is so great about Exalead? Perhaps ‘different’ would be a better word – different in both feature set and functionality, different with regard to navigation and interface. Exalead indexes Word and PDF documents, PowerPoint and MP3 files and all the rest, and it does this in real-time. It lets you search by proximity as already mentioned, but also phonetically, and is happy to accept truncated searches too. However, it is the user interface that impresses the most. Switching between text-only, text-with-thumbnail and thumbnail-only results is easy, for example, although thumbnails are currently restricted to websites, while non-HTML documents such as PDF or Word files show just an icon rather than a preview, which is a shame.
More than making up for this is the integrated ‘safe’ Preview browser, which lets you quickly view the page you are interested in within a sandbox environment (so the original document, be it Web/Word/PDF, is not opened), and the forward/backward buttons that enable quick jumps from one highlighted search term to the next. Being able to bookmark sites from this Preview window straight into your browser’s Bookmarks folder is hugely useful. Then there is the Navigation Bar, which lives up to its name, as search results are listed alongside dynamically related search terms and related categories from the Open Directory listings and can be one-click re-sorted by geographic location or document type. Lastly, it is worth mentioning that while Boolean search operators are a feature, as they are in the majority of search engines, Exalead, unlike the rest, allows these to be combined into complex expressions. Such search expressions are particularly powerful, thanks to the completeness of the set of operators allowed. For example, you can include NEAR for proximity searches. It should come as no surprise that Exalead’s slick search offering, soon to be available as a Desktop-searching variant, is coded from the ground up in XML.
Google pot shots
Although it suffers a little from ‘top of the tree’ syndrome where everyone (including me) takes pot shots at it, Google itself continues to innovate in some areas. Most notable of late is the beta test of Google Print, which is currently being integrated into the main search engine. It is an interesting concept, bringing content that is not currently online into the search space. You do a search as normal and, if there are books within the Google index that contain content matching your search, a books link is flagged at the top of your search results listing. Following this link takes you to a page where you will find additional information about the book and links to purchase it at the major online bookshops. Most importantly, though, the page of the book that matches your search profile will also be displayed in full. Indeed, most books will offer a number of pages either side of the main ‘hit’ available for reading online, together with a contents page.
If the book has expired from copyright, the chances are its whole text will be available for online reading, but not otherwise. There are some limitations, such as both browser-printing and image-copying functions being disabled (although if you really must, it is easy to get around these blocks by using screen-capture software). If you use the Google Desktop search, books do not seem to get returned in results, at least not in my browser. At the moment, the main limitation is that you will not get too many hits that return book links, because only a few publishers have as yet signed up. However, I expect this to change fairly quickly, as Google is signing deals with library partners at the moment.