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SuperboyAC's DC blog #2 (Live Search feature in software)

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The Live Search Feature
Fast and Fun SearchingSuperboyAC's DC blog #2 (Live Search feature in software)
We all have our fetishes.  We computer powerusers even have our own software fetishes.  C'mon, just admit it!  My personal favorite programming fetish is the live searching mechanism that is becoming more and more prevalent in several applications.  I call it the Live Search feature but it goes by many names:

* Live search (I think I made this one up)
* Find-as-you-type
* Search-as-you-type
* Lighting fast searching (I noticed that a couple of programs use "lighting fast" to distinguish this feature as opposed to "quick search" or "fast find" which usually just means a regular searching mechanism)
* Incremental search
* Real time filter
I'm sure many of you are familiar with this feature, and if you've read any of my posts you'll know how obsessed I am with it.  Here's a basic description of what this feature does:

When searching for something in a program, you simply start typing the search criteria, and the list of results will change as each character is typed.  The difference between this and a regular search engine is that you can see (in "real time") the list getting shorter and shorter as more characters are typed.

Now, while I love this, I will admit that in most cases it is not the most important feature in the world, but it just makes using a program so much more enjoyable.  As far as efficiency, I wouldn't say it saves a huge amount of time (essentially, it saves you whatever time it takes to hit "Enter").  But the bottom line is that it is definitely more efficient, visually more pleasing, has better feedback (since the user can see the results in real-time), and it's just really cool.

In the rest of this article, I will present a list of several applications that use this feature, and rate them on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the best, of course).  I'm sure there are more programs that have the live search feature, but these are the ones I am familiar with.  While I write this mostly just for fun, I hope it helps programmers and software developers get a detailed look on the various implementations of this feature.  Hopefully, more and more applications will eventually include this feature if it is applicable to their function.

Let's take a look!

{List is presented in alphabetical order}

Addza is a brand new player in the addressbook (contact manager) field.  Incidentally, one of my other software fetishes is good addressbook software (see my posts on the subject).  Addza was on Bits du Jour one day and even though I don't think it's the best addressbook software, I bought it simply because it included the live search feature.  That, and it is also one of the very few strictly addressbook applications that is still being actively developed.  I have a lot of hope for Addza.

Now, as far it's live search feature, it's actually pretty excellent.  I took off one point for it only because it's still in the beginning stages and not a lot of options are available.  For example, it would be nice to be able to pick which fields are searched (All fields, just names, just numbers, or some combo of a bunch of different fields).  Other than that, the searching is awesome.  It even highlights (in real-time!) the matching characters as you type.  Of all addressbook or contact manager applications, Addza has the best implementation of the live search feature.
SuperboyAC's DC blog #2 (Live Search feature in software)
The Bat!
The Bat!, one of DC's favorite applications, has a pseudo-live search feature called "Quick Search".  It resides on the main toolbar and it functions both as a sort of live search and a filter simultaneously.  It's actually a terrible implementation of the live search feature; it should just be called "live jump".  When you type something in it and DON'T press "Enter", it will just jump to the first match.  If you do press "Enter", it acts like a filter and will remove anything from the window that doesn't match.  During the "jump" there is no filtering, it just goes to the first match.  Also, it doesn't really react "as-you-type", it just waits until you stop typing before it jumps to the match.  Kind of useless for the most part.  It's basically just a conveniently placed filter/search, so calling it "Quick Search" is actually very accurate.
SuperboyAC's DC blog #2 (Live Search feature in software)
CardScan is another addressbook program.  Most of you won't be able to try it out because you can only use the software if you buy their card scanning hardware, which is pretty expensive.  But I've used it and it has a nifty live search box.  Like Addza, it searches every single field in the contacts (names, phone numbers, zip codes,...anything).  Unfortunately, like Addza, you can't set or customize which fields to limit the search to, but that's not a big deal.  Personally, I prefer these live searches to just search everything, anyway, so it's fine with me if you can't fiddle with it.  But I'm sure some people will just want to limit it to names only, or something along those lines.  I would give it a 9, but Addza's live search is better because it highlights the matching results, so I couldn't make them exactly equal.
SuperboyAC's DC blog #2 (Live Search feature in software)
Directory Opus
Directory Opus is a file manager and Windows Explorer replacement (the best one at that!).  In one of it's more recent updates to its v8 line, it introduced a feature it calls a "Filter".  The filter will filter a window showing files down to just the files matching whatever is in the filter.  The filter is lighting fast and is true search-as-you-type (i.e. no pause like in the Bat!).  Like anything else in DOpus, you can customize the filter to your heart's desire, and it accepts certain regex commands, for those that like that sort of thing.  This gets perfect scores because it made a great program even better and should satisfy the entire range of its userbase.
SuperboyAC's DC blog #2 (Live Search feature in software)   SuperboyAC's DC blog #2 (Live Search feature in software)
EssentialPIM is a typical do-it-all PIM software.  It includes a live search feature in the addressbook portion of the application.  Like Addza and Cardscan, it searches as-you-type, except the response isn't as fast as the really good live search implementations.  Like the Bat!, there seems to be a pause before the results list actually responds to each character typed.  Ideally, you want to see the list shorten immediately after pressing each key.  So, that's the main complaint for EssentialPIM.  I will give it bonus points for including a drop-down box to customize which field the live search will use (All Fields is the default and best option).
SuperboyAC's DC blog #2 (Live Search feature in software)   
EverNote is a great notetaking program.  One of its more prominent features is a live search box in the upper right-hand corner of the application.  It works wonderfully well, I can't think of one complaint about it.  It's lightning fast, it's well-integrated with the rest of the program, and it is vital to the program's function.  For those that aren't familiar with EverNote, it doesn't use a heirarchy to organize the notes, but a long chronological toilet-paper-like scroll.  The live search is crucial to finding the right note in that big scroll.  So, it's not just a nice, fancy feature, but one of the few live searches that is essential to the program's task.  As an added bonus, the matching terms get highlighted in real-time as you type in the live search box.  Perfect!
SuperboyAC's DC blog #2 (Live Search feature in software)
FindAndRunRobot (FARR) is a product of DC and it's gracious owner, mouser.  It's the best program launching program in the history of software, and if I'm not mistaken, the most popular DC appplication.  The live search feature is essentially the entire program, making it one of the few programs that make the live search the focal point of the software (even more so than EverNote).  In FARR, you use the live search to find the program you want to launch, and with the upcoming v2, you will be able to do all sorts of fancy things, like search through directories using certain special tags and expressions.  It is probably the most advanced and sophisticated implementation of the live search that is currently available in the software world right now.  If it seems like I am saying this tongue-in-cheek, I'm not.  It's actually true.  I would actually like to give it an 11/10, but I hate it when people do that.
SuperboyAC's DC blog #2 (Live Search feature in software)
MP3rat is a mp3 cataloging program.  Its live search is also the central feature of it.  MP3rat is unique in that it doesn't organize your mp3 collection using album, artist, or some kind of folder structure.  Everything is dumped into one big list, and you use the live search box to filter the list down to whatever you are trying to find.  The search is lightning fast and doesn't leave much to be desired.  It can also be tweaked so that it searches only the fields you want (all fields, or only certain fields); it is probably the best implementation of this of all the programs because you can pick all fields, or individually check off the fields you want.  Unfortunately, it seems like the program hasn't been actively developed for a while, but it still works great.
SuperboyAC's DC blog #2 (Live Search feature in software)   SuperboyAC's DC blog #2 (Live Search feature in software)
myBase is another great notetaking program.  In it's latest v5, it introduced what it calls "Find As-you-type".  It functions as a live search box that will search through the notes and return a list of matching notes.  I was excited when I learned that this feature was being implemented in one of my favorite notetaking applications.  Unfortunately, the implementation of it isn't all that great.  For one thing, it's not a "true" live search.  Like the Bat! and EssentialPIM, it doesn't search as each character is typed, but, instead, it waits for the typing to end, and after a short pause, a list appears of the resulting matches.  What's worse is that the new results window that appears scrunches down the current active window, and after you close the results window, the current window remains scrunched.  So, after using the search, you always have to maximize the current window to get it back the way it was.  The whole thing is just a little klunky.  On the positive side, the results window gives some good detailed information about the results, such as how many times the term appears in that specific note.  But it doesn't highlight the matches like in EverNote and Addza.  Overall, it's a decent feature but in the end, I didn't like using much at all.  Live searching is supposed to make searching faster, easier, and cooler, but in this case, they're both sort of the same.
SuperboyAC's DC blog #2 (Live Search feature in software)
Powermarks is an alternative bookmarking application for IE or Firefox.  It is made by the same author as MP3rat, and the two programs are essentially identical except for the different purpose that they serve.  The keyword, live search, basic interface, and most everything else is exactly the same.  What I like about this author is that he's basically created a live search engine, and built two applications around it.  As a sidenote, for those of you who can't seem to figure out a way to effectively organize your internet bookmarks, I highly recommend Powermarks.  [For more details about the live search features, please read the MP3rat section above, it works the same way.]
SuperboyAC's DC blog #2 (Live Search feature in software)   SuperboyAC's DC blog #2 (Live Search feature in software)
Zoot is yet another notetaking application (notice a trend here?).  Zoot is a program that some can say was ahead of its time.  It used the live search feature long before EverNote did.  Unfortunately, development on the program has stalled and all we are left with is a severely outdated 16-bit notetaking program.  However, this is about it's live search engine, and it's pretty darn good.  The searching is lighting fast, as with all of the other top scorers, and you have the ability to customize what is and what isn't searched.  Also, in a very old-fashioned kind of way, the matching terms are highlighted once you choose a matching result and jump to that particular note.  I took off a half-point because it only highlights the first match and not all of the matches (if there are multiple ones).  No big deal.
SuperboyAC's DC blog #2 (Live Search feature in software)
Concluding Remarks

As you can see, there are a large variety of applications making use of this realtively new feature in software.  Clearly, some specific types of applications (i.e. notetaking) naturally gravitate towards including the live search in their programs because of its efficiency and usefulness.  However, it's also good to see some authors taking this idea and building very creative applications around it (FindAndRunRobot, MP3rat, Powermarks).  As an avid software fanatic, I welcome the inclusion of the live search whenever possible.  If nothing else, it's just fun to play with it!

I know that this is a probably  much too long-winded of an article for such a seemingly insignificant little feature.  Part of my reason for doing this is to highlight the subtle differences that can make a good program great.  Sometimes, the little features are ignored when there are larger and more important things to worry about.  I hope that the software developers find the analysis here useful for their current and future projects, that's really what all this is for.

Until next time,
SuperboyACIn case you were wondering......where my avatar picture came from.

Wow  :-* :-* :-* :-*

Wonderful !!!  Another patented SuperboyAC masterpiece, complete with the chaster of humour at the end.. gotta love it :)

Self-promotion warning: A major motivation for my writing my clipboard tool (Clipboard Help+Spell) was wanting to add a live search feature :)

Nice post! Azureus ( features find-as-you-type too, very helpful indeed.  :up:

Opera browser has it in most of its features, such as Opera mail, bookmarks and i'm sure other places.


i had no idea about Directory Opus have 'live search' going to set it up right now.


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