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Originally published Monday, August 8, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Small office / Home office

AskSam database is handy virtual shoebox

Of all the many things we ask our computers to do, probably one of the most important tasks we assign to our digital device is for it to...

Knight Ridder Newspapers

Of all the many things we ask our computers to do, probably one of the most important tasks we assign to our digital device is for it to remember.

All of the documents we write and e-mails we send and receive are usually saved in case we need to read them sometime in the future.

Digital photographs we take, audio clips we record and other types of multimedia we collect are usually stored on our computers so that we may watch, listen and enjoy them sometime later on.

And then there's the more obvious applications such as our address book that keeps track of all those names, addresses, phone numbers, business contacts and the like.

While many of the applications that help you to create all of this information will in some way also help you to organize and find what you entered, most of them won't help you to find what was created in different applications. And it's getting worse.

The more we store on our computer, the more we find ourselves frustrated in our attempts to find what we need among our ever-growing collections of data.

The operating systems that run everything, such as Windows and Apple's OS X, are continuing to improve in how they help us to seek out that we need to find. Most recently, the latest iteration of OS X — known as Tiger — has introduced its Spotlight feature that helps you to find the file that you're looking for, even letting you search via its contents.

But if you want to dump just about any kind of information into your computer and not have to worry about any kind of structure, you may want to check out something known as a free-form database program.

AskSam ( is one, letting you literally dump into it most any kind of data without having to worry about what it is. It's as close to a virtual shoebox as you're going to find. Yet it lets you find things in ways that are not really possible using a structured database that has fields in it like "Name" and "Address."

AskSam lets you find things as you would with any database. For example, if you're using it to keep track of your stamp collection, you could ask it to find all of your stamps that you purchased within a date range, that are blue and that cost you more than $100.

But it also lets you perform other, more sophisticated searches not found with other structured database applications. For example, askSam's Proximity search lets you find data based on words that appear close together or within an adjustable range.

Proximity searches have proved to be highly successful in law enforcement, and that same kind of power may also prove to be a valuable addition to how you search for relevant records within your own database.


Fuzzy search within askSam lets you find records that might have been overlooked because they contained items that were misspelled, or they were spelled correctly but didn't exactly match the way you spelled your search criteria. Fuzzy matching would still locate what you wanted to find.

You can also search through multiple askSam databases. Additional features in the latest version let you save Web pages directly into an askSam database. You can choose to save a single page, selected sections or an entire Web site complete with graphics, frames and formats. You can import information directly from Adobe PDF files and other selected applications.

AskSam 6 Standard is available for Windows only and sells for $149.95. AskSam Professional ($395) adds full-text indexing to its searching ability coupled with the ability to search hundreds of megabytes and thousands of documents in seconds.

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