AskSam Offers Search Flexibility

By Timothy Dyck  |  Posted 2002-08-26

AskSam Offers Search Flexibility

AskSams document template and text search features make it a good option for text databases controlled and used by a single user, and it gains stronger import features and an API in Version 5.0.

Released last month by Seaside Software Inc. (doing business as AskSam Systems), AskSam 5.0 adds the ability to import Adobe Systems Inc.s Acrobat PDF files and e-mail documents from Qualcomm Inc.s Eudora, Netscape Communications Corp.s Netscape Mail, Microsoft Corp.s Outlook and Outlook Express, and Poco Systems PocoMail (but, notably, not Microsoft Exchange or IBM Lotus divisions Notes).

AskSam 5.0 runs on Windows 95 or later and comes in two versions: a $150 Standard version and a $395 Professional version, which includes document indexing and a programming interface.

Version 5.0 provides better tools for changing the format of existing AskSam documents and allows original documents to be linked to or embedded in an AskSam database during the document import process.

However, AskSam has some serious limitations that need to be considered if a corporation already has a document or data management strategy in place.

AskSam data is not accessible through standard data access protocols and so will be inaccessible to data integration tools or data reporting tools.

New in this release is an ActiveX control that provides a way for in-house Windows applications or Active Server Pages-based Web applications to access AskSam databases, but these will be custom programming efforts. A $1,500 Web Publisher option provides a pre-built Web gateway to AskSam data, but it doesnt support record updates.

The company will be adding a Web services interface in the next 60 days to make the product more accessible and will move to support XML documents, said AskSam CEO Phil Schnyder.

That will help, but AskSam also lacks many standard data entry validation tools, such as data type constraints, data range constraints and foreign key constraints.

As a result, AskSam isnt well-suited to projects where users have to enter a lot of new data or to projects that dont involve full-text data searches. For these efforts, we advise companies to look into an easy-to-use database such as FileMaker Inc.s FileMaker Pro or the more complicated, but also more enterprise-ready, Microsoft Access.

Search Skill

Search Skill

AskSam is the right tool for users who need to organize collections of full-length documents. It has capable search features, going beyond the field-based search features in databases to provide full-text, proximity and Boolean text search operators.

Combined with AskSams ability to use field-based searches where it makes sense (especially on common fields such as date and document author or importance), AskSam provides considerable searching power over material that wasnt designed to be stored in a database.

AskSam can import data from many desktop data formats, and it has decent reporting features. The application can group related data and calculate totals and subtotals for numeric information, although it lacks the ability to create charts or graphs.

In tests, eWeek Labs defined data entry forms to enter new data. We could also have AskSam locate a particular keyword and then associate text following it with that keyword.

This keyword matching scheme let us search documents in structured ways. For example, we imported our production schedule (an Excel worksheet) into AskSam and were able to search for all stories due after a certain date and assigned to a particular author. This would certainly not be possible in a word processor and can be tricky to do in a spreadsheet.

Updating an entry form doesnt automatically update documents already imported into an AskSam file, but a new Insert Entry Form command allowed us to add a new field to all existing documents at once, a feature current users will find quite useful.

West Coast Technical Director Timothy Dyck can be reached at

Executive Summary

: Asksam 5.0">

Executive Summary: Asksam 5.0

Usability Good
Capability Good
Performance Good
Interoperability Fair
Manageability Poor
Scalability Fair
Security Fair

AskSams templates provide a way to impose a structure on large collections of documents or spreadsheets, making it a good tool for searching for data in these kinds of files. Its less useful as a data entry tool, lacking many features found in desktop databases.


At $150 or $395 (with faster operation being the main difference between the two versions), AskSam is an inexpensive purchase. The hidden cost will be the ongoing management of data stored in AskSam databases—data that wont be accessible to other database systems or reporting tools.

(+) Now imports data from Acrobat PDF files; imports e-mail documents from several popular desktop e-mail programs; Version 5.0 makes it easier to change the format of existing forms in an AskSam database; can link to or embed original documents at import time for reference; new programming API.

(-) Lacks standard data validation tools found in databases, making data entry errors more likely; lacks graphing and charting in its reports; cannot import e-mail data from Notes or Exchange servers; no standard data access API for external software packages.


  • FileMakers FileMaker Pro
  • Any of the big relational databases (all include full-text search engines now)
  • Portals such as Plumtree Software Inc.s Plumtree Corporate Portal

  • Rocket Fuel