Tuesday, June 29, 2004

OS X Enhances Search Technologies

It seems like Apple's pulled out all the stops to try to answer Brad DeLong's complaints about the limitations imposed by the current level of support for file searching on most modern operating systems. Of course, Microsoft's big WinFS push just might have had something to do with this as well ...

Tiger introduces an innovative new system-wide metadata search engine that can instantly search through more than 100,000 files, documents, emails and contacts all at once.

Searching with Smarts
The metadata engine makes searching smarter, more flexible and powerful by indexing the descriptive informational items already saved within your files and documents. Metadata describes the “what, when and who” of every piece of information saved on your Mac: the kind of content, the author, edit history, format, size and many more details. Most documents, including Microsoft Word documents, Photoshop images and emails, already contain rich metadata items. By using this indexed information for searching, you can tap into tremendous power and accuracy for refining search results.

Faster Results
The engine automatically takes all the metadata inside files and enabled applications and puts the data into a high-performance index. This process occurs transparently and in the background, so you never experience lag times or slow downs during normal operation. When you make a change, such as adding a new file, receiving an email or entering a new contact, the metadata engine updates its index automatically. Results of search requests are displayed virtually as fast as you can type your query.

Application Metadata-Awareness
The metadata engine uses special importer technology to open and read heterogeneous file formats. Tiger includes importers for some of the most popular file formats. The metadata engine can be extended to any new file format, automatically adding an application’s information to your search results.

The search technologies in Mac OS X don’t stop with the metadata search engine. Whenever you perform a search, you will also be searching a powerful content index that uses the full contents of files to find matches. Even documents without any metadata are included in searches.
Apple now seems to have dealt with at least the free-text-search aspect of the scenario Brad outlined, and the company has also apparently taken to heart that the performance-crippling nature of the Indexing Service built into Windows 2000 and its successors is simply unacceptable if its indexing engine is to be worth using; there's no good reason why automatically keeping track of changes to documents should eat up loads of CPU time, Microsoft decided upon a boneheaded implementation.

As nice as this new indexing engine seems to be, however, I still think that there are ways in which it won't be able to come close to relying on Google to do one's indexing for one. Barring support for semantic features such as synonymy, metonymy, antonymy, simile, metaphor, polysemy, synecdoche and the like, no machine-based system of annotation will ever touch an implicitly hand-maintained system like Google's PageRank-based offering in terms of relevance or comprehension. Do any of the indexing systems out there even have support for something as rudimentary as word-stemming? I doubt it.

UPDATE: This Register story by Andrew Orlowski is also worth reading.


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February 25, 2007 at 12:55 AM  

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