Gelernter's search dream becomes a reality

Can an idea in a book become a reality? Computer scientist and entrepreneur David Gelernter hopes so as he launches Scopeware, a new search technology based on musings in his 1991 book Mirror Worlds.

Also known as one of the victims of the Unabomber, Gelernter founded Mirror Worlds Technologies (MWT) in 1998 to develop Scopeware, which presents corporate data as a single "stream" of information.

As Gelernter proposed in Mirror Worlds, the idea of the folder-storage system found in almost all operating systems today will have to change radically as the glut of electronic information continues to grow. Gelernter says that it is absurd to name a file, place it in folder and then have to remember where the data is at a later date. His idea is to let the computer handle the work.

Scopeware is designed to replace the folder hierarchy. All data is presented as a chronology, rather than divided into folders and drives. To find a piece of information, users scroll through the list or narrow it down with a keyword search. Gelernter aims to eliminate the need to use the Windows Explorer feature to find a file.

The Scopeware Suite culls information from e-mail, text files, spreadsheets, Web pages and Portable Document Format files, presenting it to the user as a stream of thumbnail images in chronological order with the latest coming first. Users can highlight a document to get a larger image to see if it contains the information they need. Streams can be accessed through a Web browser, Palm OS device, Wireless Application Protocol phone or RIM BlackBerry using the Scopeware Mobile Module, says Michael Satow, CEO of MWT.

Other modules include Scan & Retrieve, for adding digital images of paper documents to the stream, and Archive, for providing a read-only library view of corporate documents.

The Scopeware application platform is written in Java and can sit on just about any server operating system. Network agents monitor e-mail servers and file folders for new information. When a file or e-mail enters the system, it is indexed, a thumbnail image is created, and it is stored in Scopeware's internal metadatabase. "This can be used to create up-to-the second views of data of a particular subject," Satow says. "For instance, a 'marketing' stream can be created by combing the e-mail from the people in marketing and files associated with them, as well as partner Web pages and information."

Scopeware is designed to obey user permissions set by an operating system. If a user does not have rights to a specific folder or network device, he will not see any data from that area in his stream. Satow says Scopeware has the option of overriding permissions for single files. Each user can also tailor his own stream to certain data or file types.

Although development of Scopeware began in 1998 with a group of Yale graduate students (Gelernter is a professor of computer science there), he wrote about the idea in Mirror Worlds and many other papers. A personal tragedy nearly ended the dream in 1993, when Gelernter was seriously injured in one of the Unabomber's attacks.

Satow says Scopeware will be sold as an application, and its technology will be licensed to other software developers looking to implement some of its features. The application pricing is per module and starts at $2,200 for 10 users.


This story, "Gelernter's search dream becomes a reality" was originally published by Network World.

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