The Fish That Was Ahead of Its Time

This is old news but it still comes as something of a shock to me: You have probably never heard of Enfish but you see its legacy in every desktop search program you’ll come across. That’s because the company helped promote the idea that searching your own files was as useful an activity as searching the Internet. This was back in 1998. It wasn’t entirely novel (there was something called Discovery put out by Altavista), but they did it amazingly well with an application called Tracker Pro that has, in my view, never been improved upon (including by Enfish themselves).

The software, as far as I can recall, only worked on Windows 98 but it was powerful, powerful stuff. It indexed your hard drive, network drives and removable drives in the background (OK, there were some performance issues, but nothing you couldn’t overcome) and searches were lightning fast. What I particularly loved about it were the trackers — complex searches you could save and launch from a sidebar. You could give those strings a user friendly name and then share them with other users. You could also, if I remember correctly, tag files to make for more customized, personal searches. All this in a pretty cool interface, which let you view the document, email or whatever within Tracker Pro itself.

Those days have long since been over. Enfish — Enter, Find, Share — developed in different directions. Since late last year, Enfish as a company and product basically doesn’t exist. Instead you find this message on their website:

Dear Enfish Customers, As of November 1, 2005, Enfish Software will no longer sell its own products, but rather license its technology and patents to others.

From now on the technology has been licensed to another company, EasyReach, which I’m hoping to try out. The sad thing to me was that Enfish, despite a really strong first product, seemed to veer off in the wrong direction, instead of focusing on their core strength: powerful indexing flexible search. I found this immensely frustrating, although I also found their team, including still chairman Louise Wannier, very approachable and enthusiastic. They just never quite built on the promise of their first product.

Perhaps it was just a simple case of Enfish being ahead of their time. Now all the big players are throwing out products that pretty much do what Enfish Tracker did eight years ago. But none of them have quite the style that Tracker Pro did, in my view.

03. May 2006 by jeremy
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