Those of us who work with words know that retrieving phrases, sentences or paragraphs from our text files is very important and often very difficult.
Fortunately, the software industry is catching up with our needs with full-text retrieval programs that make the task easy.
Most text-retrieval software for personal computers requires you to identify, at the time you create the text, the words or phrases you might later want to use.
Full-text retrieval software, on the other hand, requires no such planning. When you need to find text containing a particular word or group of words, the software finds it and allows you to copy it into a new document.
For instance, if I wanted to see everything I've written about IBM, I could ask the program to display every location in all my Computer File files where the name IBM appeared. If I wanted to repeat any of that information in a new column, I could view it, select which portion to copy and move it to a new file.
Two competing full-text retrieval programs for IBM and compatible personal computers that have recently come onto the market are Gofer, $59.95, by Microlytics, 300 Main St., East Rochester, N.Y. 14445, (716) 377-0130, and Memory Lane, $99.95, by Group L Corp., 481 Carlisle Drive, Herndon, Va., (800) 672-5300.
Both programs hide in your computer's memory until you need them and then run in conjunction with your regular word processing program. But they take quite different approaches to text retrieval.
Gofer does all its work within the computer's random access memory, or RAM, and makes a fresh search through your files each time you look for a new word or group of words. Memory Lane creates its own index of all your text files (the ones you instruct it to index, that is) and searches that index each time you make a new search.
As a result, Memory Lane retrieves text much faster than Gofer, but at the price of taking up disk space to store the index, which is 14% as large as the size of the text files it has indexed.
Gofer is the more polished and robust program. It also has extra features and a much more complete instruction manual.
Both programs are supposed to work with a wide variety of word processing programs and translate text created with one word processor into a form that can be used by another.
I tested both with Microsoft Word 4.0, WordPerfect, MultiMate II, WordStar 2000 Plus, Q&A, Leading Edge Word Processing and PC-Write.
Gofer worked well with all of those programs except Leading Edge Word Processing, a program that also cannot be used with Memory Lane or any memory-resident software.
Memory Lane has additional "teething" problems. It won't work with Word if Word is running in its graphics mode (Gofer will), but it does work with Word in the text mode. And it worked improperly when used with MultiMate II on my color monitor.
Q&A presented a special problem for both programs. It would not accept text moved directly from either Gofer or Memory Lane. Instead, text retrieved by either program had to be saved as a disk file, and that file was then copied into a Q&A file. Both Gofer and Memory Lane allow you to easily create text files from the data they find.
PC-Write also had problems. I use a special version that has the "Enter" key reprogrammed to insert a special end-of-paragraph marker into text files. When text was moved into such a file from either Gofer or Memory Lane, that end-of-paragraph marker was added to the end of each line.
These problems reveal that full-text retrieval is a tricky business, and you should plan on doing a fair bit of testing before you are certain it will work for your particular application. But the results are definitely worth the effort.
When Gofer is called to the screen, it presents you with blanks for entering up to eight words or phrases (Memory Lane doesn't accept phrases in its present version). The first four entries are connected by the word "OR" so that you'll get a hit if any of the four words or phrases are found. (You need enter only one word if you want.)
The next group of four entries are separated from the first by one of four control words that you choose--AND, OR, NOT or NEARBY. Thus you can look for files containing Reagan AND Bush or files containing Simon NOT Dukakis or even files containing Hart NEARBY Rice. If you select NEARBY, you also get to specify how many lines away the second reference can be from the first. (Memory Lane version 1.3, the latest one out, does not have AND, NOT or NEARBY relationships.)
Once you choose the words to search for, you must decide which files should be examined. The easiest way to do that with Gofer is to have it graphically display your "directory tree," which shows the names of all the directories on your hard disk and their relationship to each other. That saves you from having to remember them. Finally, you can point to selected files within a directory, further limiting the text to be searched and thus speeding up the process.