Desktop Search -- What you need if you don't have grep (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source, Science, and Nature.

Wed, 19 Jan 2005

Desktop Search -- What you need if you don't have grep

I've been surprised by the recent explosion in Windows desktop search tools. Why does everyone think this is such a big deal that every internet company has to jump onto the bandwagon and produce one, or be left behind?

I finally realized the answer this morning. These people don't have grep! They don't have any other way of searching out patterns in files.

I use grep dozens of times every day: for quickly looking up a phone number in a text file, for looking in my Sent mailbox for that url I mailed to my mom last week, for checking whether I have any saved email regarding setting up CUPS, for figuring out where in mozilla urlbar clicks are being handled.

Every so often, some Windows or Mac person is opining about how difficult commandlines are and how glad they are not to have to use them, and I ask them something like, "What if you wanted to search back through your mail folders to find the link to the cassini probe images -- e.g. lines that have both http:// and cassini in them?" I always get a blank look, like it would never occur to them that such a search would ever be possible.

Of course, expert users have ways of doing such searches (probably using command-line add-ons such as cygwin); and Mac OS X has the full FreeBSD commandline built in. And more recent Windows versions (Win2k and XP) now include a way to search for content in files (so in the Cassini example, you could search for http:// or cassini, but probably not both at once.) But the vast majority of Windows and Mac users have no way to do such a search, the sort of thing that Linux commandline users do casually dozens of times per day. Until now.

Now I see why desktop search is such a big deal.

But rather than installing web-based advertising-drive apps with a host of potential privacy and security implications ...

wouldn't it be easier just to install grep?

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[ 11:45 Jan 19, 2005    More tech | permalink to this entry ]