It's even hard to find old e-mail messages, especially if you use Microsoft Outlook or Outlook Express - the world's leading e-mail programs for Windows. These two programs have a search function but it's annoyingly slow, especially if you have a lot of e-mail in your in and out boxes.
Fortunately, there are two new products on the market designed to speed up the process of search for old mail. Isys E-mail Search from Odyssey Development (http://www.isysemail.com/) works with the Outlook, Outlook Express and Eudora e-mail programs to make it a snap to find old messages based on their content.
The program, which costs $29.95, is able to find any mail in your inbox or "sent" folder instantly - and I mean instantly. Type in a word, hit the enter key and you're see a list of messages that contain that word. You can also use the program to search for Boolean expressions such as IBM and Apple to find occurrences of both words in the same message. You can also use more refined search techniques such as "does not contain" or "a word within a paragraph of another word."
The program brings up a copy of the message in its own unique window. You can click on an icon to display that message within your e-mail program should you want to respond.
The program can be configured to start from within Microsoft Outlook or you can run it from the Windows start menu like any other windows application.
Isys can only be used to search for active Outlook or Outlook Express files which means it won't search through your archive file (very old mail) unless you keep that active within Outlook. Most people don't. Because of this limitation, Isys is not the ideal program for finding very old messages that may no longer be in your inbox
The advantage of Isys is that it's inexpensive, easy to install and easy to use but it is limited.
X1, from X1 Technologies (www.x1.com) is quite a bit more ambitious. In addition to searching through your e-mail it also finds bits and pieces of information in other documents including word processing, downloaded web pages, Adobe PDF documents and Excel files.
The program, which costs $99, creates an index of all the words in your documents. Like Isys, it's extremely fast because it's searching through the index rather than the documents themselves. When you perform a query, it immediately starts to locate the files as you're typing the word.
Type comp and it will find files and e-mail messages with "compensate," "computer" and anything else starting with comp but as you complete the word, it starts to limit the search to exactly what you're looking for.
X1 is a more robust program and it is certainly fast but it's more expensive and not quite as easy to use as Isys.
You can download free 30-day trial versions of both programs at their respective websites.
Another option, if you have plenty of time, is to use Windows built-in search feature. It's not bad if you know the file name but excruciatingly slow if you try to search based on text within the file. It can't, however, be used to find e-mail. Still, Windows search can be useful. You can access it from the Start menu but don't forget to explore the "advanced search" options to search by date or by a word or phrase within the file.
A syndicated technology columnist for nearly two decades, Larry Magid serves as on air Technology Analyst for CBS Radio News. His technology reports can be heard several times a week on the CBS Radio Network. Magid is the author of several books including "The Little PC Book."
By Larry Magid