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).

EnfishThe 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 has quite the style that Tracker Pro had, I reckon. Bye-bye, weird hand-shaped fish thing.

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.

Column: Project5 and computer music

Loose Wire — So You Wanna Be a Rock Star?: If you still harbour teen dreams of fronting your own band, this new software’s for you – it brings an entire sound system to your PC

 
By Jeremy Wagstaff
from the 24 April 2003 edition of the Far Eastern Economic Review, (c) 2003, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Making music used to involve chunks of metal, miles of cable and roadies called Phil. Not any more.

Take my closet, for example. Taking up most of the space are half a dozen boxes that once formed my music studio (what I’d call my rig when trying to impress people). Among them: a drum, three synthesizers, an effects rack, a compressor box and a mixer. All of this must have cost me at least $2,500 in the early 1990s. Linking them all was a maze of cables producing enough hum to scare away bears. Now it’s all been replaced by a CD-ROM from a guy called Greg.

The CD-ROM in question is called Project5, launched this month by a United States-based company called Twelve Tone Systems, and Greg is Greg Hendershott, the unassuming genius who runs it. I don’t use the term “genius” lightly, but Hendershott is up there in my pantheon of heroes for once producing a program called Cakewalk, which allowed me to hook up all my musical equipment to my computer and do something called “sequencing” — playing them all at once. So, instead of laboriously recording a drum part onto tape before adding a keyboard part, Cakewalk used a standard called MIDI to store the raw data of what was played — which notes, how long you hold them for, how hard you hit them — onto a computer, and then allowed you to tweak it. Cakewalk revolutionized song-writing for people like me, who couldn’t afford to rent a studio or hire musicians, and, most importantly, tended to hit a lot of wrong notes.

Now Hendershott’s done it again. Project5 (about $400 from www.cakewalk.com) is a program that not only stores the raw data, it also provides the sounds, mimicking all your synthesizers and drum machines via an on-screen display that looks like a console on the Starship Enterprise. All you need is a MIDI keyboard to play, and the computer will create the sounds, as well as store, or sequence, them. Suddenly you can tweak the belchings of Shrek, or the timbre of a Javanese gamelan, or record your grand piano and play the whole thing from your PC (no Mac version is available).

Hendershott is not first to the table with Project5: Programs like Propellerhead Software’s Reason ($400 from www.propellerheads.se) are collections of “software synthesizers” that can be played using a MIDI keyboard, or a sequencing program like Cakewalk’s successor, Sonar.

Still, Project5 is definitely the future. It capitalizes on all the standards that have evolved within the computer sequencing world, so that you can easily plug any competing “softsynth” into it and start using it immediately. What’s great about all this is that whereas all my old synthesizers were mostly just banks of sounds — piano, string, thrush warble — that took a rocket-science degree and a weekend to tweak, all the parameters in new softsynths can be tweaked easily and extensively. That all this appears on your screen just like a bank of synthesizers on a rig, along with knobs, sliders, flashing lights, bits of discarded chewing gum, etc., makes me feel as if I’ve died and gone to a sort of synth heaven.

Of course, the computer/music revolution has already begun, and left me way behind. Amateur musicians all over the world have produced a catalogue of electronic dance music that dwarfs the musical output of the past few centuries combined. It is this crowd that Hendershott is aiming at — indeed, his work helped create much of the phenomenon. However, if the computer revolution is to fully realize its potential for musical creativity we need to see programs like Project5 developed for folk who couldn’t tell the difference between a synthesizer and a microwave. Then I think we’ll be hearing some seriously interesting music coming out. Just don’t expect me to create it: I’m too busy selling a cupboard full of cables.