askSam Professional v5.1

Reviewed by: Jack Reikel, send e-mail
Published by: askSam Systems, go to the web site
Requires: Windows 98 or later
MSRP: $149.95 (Standard), $395.00 (Pro); upgrades: $89.95-$139.95 or free depending on your current version

askSam is a database flexible enough to organize years of e-mail, documents of all kinds, research notes, simple names and addresses, spreadsheets and anything else you can think of (testimony from court cases for all you lawyers?), and which also provides full text indexing to give you fast searches and access to everything you've stored. You can access more information than you could in previous versions of askSam - on the Internet, via e-mail, on CD-ROMs or in files on your hard drive. askSam turns the information into searchable databases. Since we last reviewed askSam, the programmers have been hard at work and this update is well worth a look (v5.1 is a free update for existing v5.0 users).

We use askSam in our computer hardware labs primarily for information storage and searching of product reviews, product datasheets, product promotional materials and spec sheets. It's handy and fast and users aren't restricted to predetermined database formats. Traditional databases are designed to handle structured data - you pre-define a structure then shove your data into the available space. askSam, on the other hand, does not require predefined structure or field lengths, you can search without learning a query language, and you can create reports without programming (either manually or with the help of the Report Creation Wizard). Most reports retain context sensitivity so that source document links remain active. You can also combine both free-form and fielded information in the database.

Because the askSam user interface looks and feels a bit like a word processor, the learning curve is mercifully short. We were able to access most versions of all of the following file formats: Adobe PDF Files, text files, RTF files, HTML files, hypertext links to external web sites, Microsoft Word and WordPerfect documents, e-mail messages (we tried Microsoft Outlook, Eudora, PocoMail, The Bat, Netscape, etc.), databases (Microsoft Access, dBASE - we did not try Paradox or ODBC), Microsoft Excel, comma delimited, tab delimited and fixed-position data. We also used askSam to directly import documents scanned using TextBridge's optical character recognition (OCR), and to compile questionnaire information and generate reports.

Once your information is in askSam, you can search for any information contained in fields or in free form. askSam offers a wider variety of searches many other database programs and some of the fastest and most powerful searches you'll find anywhere. The search list includes full-text searches for any word or phrase, wildcard searches with * and ?, Boolean searches (AND, OR and NOT), proximity searches, numeric searches (>, <, >=, <=, <>), date searches, fuzzy searches, searches through multiple askSam databases and case sensitive searches.

Cons: askSam's user interface is reasonably clean but you need to spend a lot of time with the program in order to make the most effective use of all the power under the hood. It's not a "Con" strictly speaking but you also have to spend a lot of time in the Help system in order to fully understand the range of features in the program. If you don't read the product documentation, you may not be able to take advantage of askSam's real power.

Pros: askSam works fast and stores/accesses enormous amounts of data. This is a serious tool for people who are serious about information management and information access. If you have thousands of e-mails and thousands of documents (in your business or field of study) which are stored in a network location or across many locations, askSam is an ideal information manager which allows you to effectively mine all of your data. Reasonably good software development kit (SDK), decent report generation out of the box, solid support on the web site. askSam v3.x users should upgrade now (thereby automatically eliminating the need for any more hypertext/link workarounds); lots of improvements for v4 users too. Highly recommended.

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