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Author: Daniel J. Pfeifer
Title: askSam ver 3.0
Publication Info: Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
August 1999
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Source: askSam ver 3.0
Daniel J. Pfeifer


vol. 2, no. 2, August 1999
Article Type: Software Review
URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.3310410.0002.215

askSam ver 3.0

Daniel J. Pfeifer

askSam ver 3.0, by askSam Systems, (www.asksam.com)1997.

askSam 3.0 for Windows $139.95

askSam 3.0 Professional for Windows $385.00

As a research tool, askSam 3.0 Professional offers the flexibility of the traditional tools, i.e. notecards or legal pads, together with powerful search capabilities. The makers of askSam, askSam Systems, are very quick to point out that their software can be as free-form or as structured as the user desires particularly noting the program's many organizational options. Researchers comfortable with jotting notes on a blank sheet of paper will welcome the clear page for input into askSam. Those who require more structure will like the ability to set up field definitions for data entry areas. Once the data is entered, the user will be pleased with the readily accessible search features and the accompanying report options.

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Upon opening the program for the first time, askSam presents users with a 3-layer toolbar of the basic functions of the program. The amount of buttons may seem excessive at first, but after some use their accessibility becomes a plus. For example, the top toolbar contains the options one expects from a Windows program including open, save, and print, as well as cut, copy, and paste. In addition, four document browsing buttons are included so that the user can move to the beginning or end of the document list and to the previous or next document. The middle toolbar contains familiar text formatting functions including font face, font size, rich text, tabs, and line justification and spacing. Finally, the lower toolbar contains an input area for limited search functionality. For the real search power of askSam, the user has to go the file menu.

If the user has already assembled documents in Microsoft Word, Corel WordPerfect or several others file formats including a limited number of database types, he or she can import them. However, the import feature is somewhat outdated, so the user might have to find the least common denominator between the file format to import and askSam's capabilities. Other items worth mentioning are askSam's ability to import e-mail and to export in several formats, most notably HTML. Along with importing documents, users can input text in askSam like in a word processor. Although limited functionality is available, it is doubtful that the user will want to give up their word processing software.

The real power of askSam is the searching and reporting capabilities. The search utility includes boolean, proximity, and field searches. Boolean searches allow for the combination or exclusion of keywords. The widespread use of search engines on the World Wide Web has popularized boolean searching. Proximity searches limit unwanted results further by specifying the distance separating two or more keywords. And finally, the more structured researcher can search by fields and specifically for dates or numbers within the data areas.

Eventually, the researcher will want hard copies of his or her information. AskSam's report utility, like the initial use of the toolbars, requires some orientation. The formatting functions are reminiscent of the days of DOS when codes and symbols ruled the screen. A small floating toolbar provides the formatting options for output. It includes edit forms for headers and footers, grouping options, placing fields in the report, etc. Naturally, all of the search functions are available for producing a report. The more free-form note-taker will be particularly pleased with askSam's ability to output in context. The user can specify how many words, sentences or paragraphs surrounding the search term should be printed.

Other features of askSam include the ability to include graphics, video, sounds, and hyperlinks. However, there is no search functionality for images, video or sound. A spell checker is available as well as other word and file processing functions like mail merge, password protection, encryption, and date and time stamps. Bookmarks for documents are also available. Users who need to share files or work on a file at the same time will want to look into the network version.

The one major criticism of askSam is its age, which is ironic in a world where users generally loathe the speedy product cycle. Although the program runs satisfactorily under Windows 95, it has not been updated for the new Windows operating system. The most obvious implication is that askSam does not support long filenames. This makes importing new documents a bit tricky and, of course, naming files and saving requires the use of eight letters or less.

Regardless of its age, askSam gives the user an experience combining the ease of word processing and the power of database queries. The program reduces the difference between a data level structure and a document level structure. Although the user does not have to specify fields or records, he or she still must determine the size and content of each document, thereby defining the document structure. The one change for most paper users will be thinking in terms of structured queries and boolean logic. But with the ever-accelerating pace of data accumulation, everyone has to start thinking in terms of fast and accurate information retrieval methods.

Daniel Pfeifer

Wake Forest University