Product review: I've met my meta match

Though I'm a long-time fan of metasearch tools, I haven't found one worth paying for since Quarterdeck's WebCompass disappeared -- until now.

X-Portal from Kaufman Consulting Service, (KCSL) is a metasearch workhorse that does more than most metasearch applications, which scour multiple search engines to uncover as many matches as possible for your search string. (There are more than a dozen such metasearch tools online. We've put a list of links on www., Doc Finder: 2324.)Most free metasearch tools make it difficult or impossible for you to add your own search sites to their lists of engines. X-Portal allows you to control your list of active search engines. For example, you could add your own corporate site and search it at the same time you search the Internet.

Adding a search engine is easy. A wizard asks for the site name and URL, then brings up the site and asks you to run a query. After that, it's placed on your list of active engines.

X-Portal is closely tied to Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser. It adds a button to Internet Explorer's standard tool bar. When you click on it, an X-Portal pane appears in the browser the same way a search or history pane does.

The X-Portal pane has two tabs. The Search tab lets you look for words or phrases, which are returned ranked by relevance, and highlights the search terms in the results. The References tab connects you to a compendium of dictionaries and almanacs, the Columbia Encyclopedia and even a political atlas that lets you zoom in and out. There are 300,000 references, all stored on your hard drive, all of which are searchable.

The program isn't perfect. It doesn't let you group your search engines by category, which would let you have one set for technical support, one set for shopping and so on. It also won't let you export a list of the links you found, which would help you share them with others. Its documentation is nonexistent, though its online help is useful. It takes up 150Megabytes of disk space. And currently, it only works with Internet Explorer 4.01 or above.

Maybe many of X-Portal's shortcomings will be rectified in upcoming releases. Until then, this application still might be a good-enough reason for Communicator users to switch to Internet Explorer 5.