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October 2001, Week 2 -- Internuts, and how to find them

   The most frequent question I get from readers is how to find something on the Internet. The request is usually very specific, like "Where can I get a folding canoe?" (There are more than a dozen makers.) There are 1.5 billion -- yes, that's billion -- web pages on the Internet, and contrary to many readers' expectations, I'm not familiar with all of them.

   You have to use a search engine. They're quick, they're easy. The simplest and fastest way to go is to simply start with Yahoo, Lycos, or MSN. We tend to use MSN www.msn.com, which stands for Microsoft News. It's fast and reasonably accurate for quick searches on common topics. If the topic is more arcane or you want to focus more tightly, it's best to turn to an engine like Profusion www.profusion.com or Google  www.google.com.

 

   There are new summarizing engines that break search results into sub-categories and save a lot of time and trouble. You might do a search on cars, for example, but what you really want is only old classic cars or sports cars or racing cars. The new categorizing engines like Vivisimo http://vivisimo.com, Wisenut www.wisenut.com or Teoma www.teoma.com will divide that search into sub-categories, such as new cars, used cars, antique cars, car parts, and so forth. I did a search for "model steam engines" with Vivisimo and got back results that let me focus on model train or boat engines, various kinds of stationary engines and tools for making model engines.

 

   Really complex searches are often best accomplished with a secondary program, like Copernic, downloadable at www.copernic.com. This is the best search tool we've ever found and I heartily recommend it for everyone.

 

   Copernic comes in a free version that has banner ads on its home screen. It queries 80 search engines at once to collect answers to your query. This free version is the one I use most often and I find it quite satisfactory. For $40 you can get a version that combs through 1,000 search engines. That's more than anyone would normally need but it could matter for difficult subjects. An $80 version, Copernic Pro, carries no ads and searches the Internet on a timed basis. This is a good tool for searching for news stories or a business looking out for the introduction of possible competing products. The Pro version can be set to search the web at any interval you specify, from every few minutes to days or weeks. It then compiles the results and notifies you by e-mail.

 

   The latest Copernic tool that caught our attention was "Summarizer." I found this program absolutely amazing. What was amazing was that it actually worked.

 

   Summarizer summarizes any document, either from a web site or a file on your computer. And it can do this in English, Spanish, French or German. You can summarize the whole document or just a part thereof. It adds itself to the pull-down menus on Microsoft's Internet Explorer and creates its own icon on the Explorer toolbar. Just click on it to summarize any web site you happen to be visiting. You can also drag any web site address or file name onto the Summarizer's own toolbar and the process begins immediately.

 

   I have no idea how this thing works and assume it must be some form of magic, because the summaries it produces are coherent and actually summarize the content. We tried it on encyclopedia articles that covered subjects we know well, for example, and the summaries were excellent. I still can't figure it out.

 

   For a limited time you get Summarizer thrown in for free if you buy Copernic Pro. Might as well if you want it. A final Copernic program is "Copernic Shopper," which is $30 and does just what the name implies: it searches the web for the best deals on products that interest you.

 

Utilities -- save those e-mails

   "Outlook Express Archive Pro," $13 for Windows, is one of those utilities that's a jewel once you realize what it does. What it does is save your e-mails.

   At first this doesn't seem particularly valuable or even interesting. But here's the situation: as Outlook Express accumulates e-mail messages it runs slower and slower. But a lot of those messages contain information you want to be able to find again. Deleting them would be a mistake.

   Using "Archive Pro" you can send them all to a special file on any disk. If you want, you can send that file to one of the many Internet services that store files for free or a fee. There are about 50 of these. Net Documents, i-Drive, Driveway and X-Drive are among the better known. A search of the web will turn up the others.

 

   Now, when you travel, change computers, or reformat your hard drive, just call up the Archive Pro file and it will put all those e-mails back into Outlook Express. You can refer to old mail and then put them away again when you're through. Find this program at www.mazepath.com.

 

   NOTE: Readers can search nearly four years of columns at the "On Computers" web site: www.oncomp.com. You can e-mail Bob Schwabach at bobschwab@oncomp.com  or bobschwab@aol.com.

 

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