Foxtrot Professional Search review

CTM Development may be best known for their Powermail application, but the search technology used in Powermail drives their stand-alone search product Foxtrot Search. This desktop and local network search application is available in a personal and professional edition. I tested the professional edition.Foxtrot Professional Search enables you to create multiple indexes—e.g. one per volume—and search through local and networked volumes. With a multi-user license, you can also share your local indexes over a local network. Finally, the application allows you to search web pages for terms and sentences in its own, built-in web browser.

Before you can use Foxtrot Professional Search, the application must be given the opportunity to at least create one index. On my system with 250 GB worth of files, this took about a quarter of an hour to complete, which is pretty fast. After that, the application is ready to search for content and metadata.

The difference between Foxtrot Professional Search and Spotlight is that the former allows you to create more granular search commands, including boolean search terms, complex patterns that pinpoint exactly what you’re looking for, and words exclusion. You also get full control over the search pattern—restrict it to file names or metadata only if you wish, for example. It also differs from Spotlight in that it delivers more intelligent options after a search has been performed. In my testing I also found it to just be faster than Spotlight, but that could be a feeling—it’s very hard to time the performance of two technologies that differ so much in their approach.
One thing that I didn’t like about Foxtrot Professional Search has to do with the way it manages its indexes: if you want to have only one index that is up to date all the time, you are out of luck, or you’ll have to update the index manually with each search you start. There is no control that allows you to have the index update more often than once a day. Another thing that I found disturbing is the lack of a good help system: the online help files are nothing short of a catastrophe.

Not that you’ll need help often: Foxtrot really is easy to use, but it’s nice to find out about the nitty gritty of a program to have a good help file available.

When a search has been executed and documents have been found, Foxtrot Professional Search shows you the results in a relevance ranked list that you can further fine-tune by dragging sliders. Results are also reported in category lists, and selecting one of these categories narrows down your search to the chosen file type or location—a very efficient way of getting to exactly the document you wanted to find in the first place.
Finding instead of searchingIn fact, it’s the range of features that help you narrowing down results to exactness that makes Foxtrot Professional search really stand out. For example, if I’m trying to find a document containing a term that I know I use often, I can nevertheless find the right document if I know that what I’m after was created a couple of years ago—all that takes is a drag of the Age slider!

Needless to say, this efficieny and effectiveness only gets better when you have the Server edition that allows you to search across all workstations in a workgroup environment. The index is then stored on that server and updates once a day to include all files on all stations.

And when you’ve found the document you think is relevant, clicking on it will open a preview panel with your search terms highlighted throughout the document. I tested this feature on a large number of different files and found Foxtrot Professional Search is capable of showing you most common file formats, including even the contents of Yojimbo’s database as well as ZIP archives, but it strangely enough does not parse the content of an Indesign file or an Omnigraffle document.

Furthermore, you’ll get the opportunity to open the document in its native application, take a Quick Look at it, or reveal it in the Finder.

In short, Foxtrot Professional Search is a lot better than Spotlight or even competing products (I’m even thinking of DEVONthink). If you need to find content fast, perhaps across multiple workstations, then Foxtrot Professional Search is a powerhouse you can’t do without.

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