SAN FRANCISCO (03/20/2000) - It's not often that a free program you download off the Internet makes you sit up and take notice. But GuruNet Corp., whose first commercial version was released last week, is one of those rare birds.
GuruNet is a utility that lets you find out more about any word that appears anywhere on your Windows desktop. And when I say anywhere, I really mean anywhere: in obvious places such as a Web browser or a Word document, but also in less obvious places such as your desktop or a menu.
Using GuruNet is easy. It installs itself in your system tray, ready at a moment's notice to perform a search. To plug a word into the engine, all you do is point your mouse over the word, press the Alt key, and click your mouse. In very short order, GuruNet returns with a response to your query. No more copying and pasting between your application and a Web browser--it's all there, literally at the click of a mouse.
GuruNet also delivers extremely comprehensive responses. Unlike search engines, which return only links to relevant Web sites, GuruNet also returns dictionary, thesaurus, and encyclopedia definitions, biographies, weather forecasts, stock quotes, press releases, and book searches, to name a few.
The utility is also smart enough to send back appropriate responses: If you Alt-click on San Francisco, it won't try and retrieve stock quotes for you, and if you Alt-click on Microsoft, it won't try and pull up a weather forecast.
GuruNet's latest trick is translation between English and nine other languages (French, Spanish, German, Russian, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Swedish, and Greek). You can use the translation preferences to determine which languages Gurunet will transfer to. In the future, GuruNet hopes to allow users to select entire passages and send them to GuruNet to be translated on the fly.
There's one glitch: You can't translate other languages to English. Americans are notorious monoglots (hint: use GuruNet to look it up), and could certainly use a bit of prompting when it comes to foreign words.
The only other complaint I could find is that you cannot Alt-click on more than one word at a time, by, say, selecting the text. To perform a search on two or more words, you must enter them manually in the GuruNet window.
But these are minor qualms. GuruNet (introduced in beta form last fall) gets frequent updates. The company recommends that you download updates regularly, and I'll take that advice.