Bypass the browser using Mac OS

Apple’s Sherlock started life as a humble hard disk file finder. When Sherlock 2 appeared in OS 9, Apple introduced the ability to access Web services and search engines through customisable content channels (plug-ins that feed information from defined Web sites). In Mac OS 10.2, Sherlock 3 concentrates on Web services, and file searching on the hard disk is improved. A new search field is displayed in any Finder window toolbar, and a dedicated Find window can now be accessed by clicking on the word Search underneath this field or by simply pressing -F.

The idea of accessing Web services in a manner potentially quicker and easier than using traditional means such as a Web browser isn’t unique to Apple. Copernic99 included features both similar and different to those of Sherlock 2 but, regretfully, 2000 saw the company continue only with development on Windows versions due to a perceived lack of interest in the product from users of the Mac OS platform.

Then there’s the handy, and some suggest superior, Sherlock 2 companion for OS X dubbed Watson. At just 1.25MB, it is a customisable application that builds on Sherlock 2’s features [a free 14-day trial version is available; the app costs $US29 to purchase]. Winner of Apple’s 2002 Design Award for ‘Most Innovative Mac OS X Product’, Apple’s Sherlock 3 appears to be inspired somewhat by Watson’s look and feel (see Figure One). Unlike Sherlock 3, Watson is able to search Google and has a few more channels — although, as with Sherlock 3, many of these won’t be of much use in Australia.

Web searches


Sherlock 2 featured Internet, Shopping, People, News, Reference and Apple channels, but Sherlock 3’s default channels include Internet, Pictures, eBay, Flights, Dictionary, Translation and AppleCare.

Start Sherlock by clicking on the Sherlock icon in the dock (the one with the magnifying glass and the Sherlock Holmes hat). You can select which channel you wish to enter when you first start Sherlock 3, and switch channels any time using the channel icons on the toolbar or from the Channel pull-down menu. Select the Internet channel and — using resources such as Ask Jeeves, About.com, Best Site 1st, LookSmart, Lycos, Overture and Sprinks — you can search the Web. Just type your query into the Topic or Description and press or the green magnifying glass icon.

You’ll notice that by clicking on the column titles, you can sort the results accordingly — including by relevance, as well as by which search engine was used. You can read the summary of a result in the bottom window pane (the separator bar is movable) and double-click to investigate it further. Sherlock 3’s Pictures channel works much the same way as Google’s image search, but it searches with Gettyimages and Lycos instead. You type in a query and matching images are displayed in clickable thumbnails that open in a new browser window.

Information channels


The AppleCare channel allows you to search the AppleCare Knowledge Base. Unfortunately, both the eBay and Flights channels are US-centric. Apple has stated that it was in talks with Australian content services, and when we approached them for the latest progress, we were advised that the talks were near completion, particularly with Australian location map services. Also a bit of a disappointment is that additional default channels — such as Movies, Yellow Pages, News and Stock Information — are available by default only to North American users.

To add channels, pull down the Sherlock menu, choose Preferences and select the Countries tab. Select United States and click the “Turn On” button so that both Australia and the US are ticked. Exit, and in a few moments you should find that the new channels have been added. Sherlock 3 has been rewritten so your Mac will auto-discover new channel plug-ins from the Apple Web site, where they are all now hosted. New channels will automatically be added to Sherlock as they become available in your selected countries.

Even with only the UK selected as a preference country in testing, the Dictionary channel still referenced the default American Heritage Dictionary and Roget’s II Thesaurus — still, they’re great resources.

The Translation channel allows you to type text into the top pane and receive a basic translation below. Just select your language and click Translate.

Additional items of interest include checking your search query’s spelling (from the Edit menu), and adjusting the channel toolbar settings from the View menu.

Summary


Although Watson has more imaginative channels covering everything from parcel tracking to recipes, and has support for countries outside the US, the fact is that Australian users of either program can’t use them to their full potential — at this stage. Apple Australia has said they’re working on content for Sherlock 3, so perhaps this good tool may end up a great service after all.

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Danny Allen

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