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Window Manager
Brian Livingston
Now you can search Microsoft's database in good old English or almost any language

A HUGE IMPROVEMENT in our ability to search Windows' technical support database is about to arrive. A search engine that allows users to search the documentation of Microsoft and several other companies using plain English will be announced soon.

The engine will retrieve meaningful documents, even if you know none of the exact words used in the articles. And pertinent answers can be retrieved with questions written in any of seven non-English languages.

An early version of this search engine is now operating at FreeAnswers' ability to find logical synonyms for the specific words you type is a feature of AnswerWorks, the technology underlying the search engine, from WexTech Systems (

For example, when I restricted my search at FreeAnswers to the subject of "Windows" and asked, "How do I hide the task bar?" the two highest-ranking documents actually related to the positioning of the Taskbar.

Once I saw in these documents that "Auto Hide" is the jargon Microsoft uses, I got even better results by asking FreeAnswers, "How do I auto hide the task bar?" That resulted in several solutions within the first 10 articles.

Companies licensing AnswerWorks to index their own databases would typically tweak it so the word "hide" is strongly related to "auto hide." Steve Wexler, president of WexTech Systems, said, "AnswerWorks comes out of the box knowing a lot about computers and a lot about business, but it needs tuning for specific product names and so on."

In comparison to AnswerWorks' technology, Microsoft's own search engines are very picky. When I typed "hide task bar" in Windows 2000 Help, I received no matches. The space between "task" and "bar" eliminated any results. Only by searching on "hide taskbar" (with no space in "taskbar") did the Help system provide a meaningful answer. Remarkably, neither format returned any relevant results from Microsoft's own knowledge-based search engine at

One step Microsoft should take is to upload the Help files for all versions of Windows to the Microsoft Web site, creating one Web page per Help topic. FreeAnswers could add the content of the Help files to its indexes, improving everyone's results.

FreeAnswers' cross-lingual capabilities are even more impressive than its capability to search by related concept. You'll be able to retrieve documents from an English-language database even if your questions are posed in another language. Soon, FreeAnswers will be able to process queries in German, French, Italian, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, and Japanese.

This capability, known as "cross-lingual support," is a striking feature that will only become more important as the global nature of the Internet evolves. Although FreeAnswers will display documents from Microsoft, Adobe, Intuit, and other databases in English (their original language), this capability will be valuable for people whose primary language is not English. It's easier to phrase a question in your native tongue, even if the results will appear in a language in which you aren't fluent.

I tested this with an AutoDesk front end that accesses an AutoCAD support database. Selecting German as the language, I asked, "Wie drucke ich?" meaning "How do I print?" -- a common question with AutoCAD. All the hits related to printing, although the word "drucke" isn't in any of the documents.

Danny Sullivan, publisher of Search, commented, "I don't know of anyone who says they have a tool that will take words in Japanese and come up with documents that are not in Japanese." I predict we'll see a lot more of this soon.

So far, AnswerWorks isn't indexing the entire Web. Instead, WexTech has focused on licensing it for $50,000 and more to firms with large databases. Hewlett-Packard and Corel are already building it into help systems. is totally free, so don't expect miracles -- but do give it a try.

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