Searching, iFilters, and attachments

Ireland in October is definitely different to Florida in September. Although I didn’t see much of the outside weather during last week’s MEC in Orlando, heat and humidity has been replaced with Dublin’s ongoing mixture of rain and wind. Some say that the weather doesn’t really matter as long as you wear the right clothing, but I don’t know whether I buy that theory.

I had the chance to visit a friend at Google’s “Europlex” in Barrow Street in Dublin on Monday. Despite being in a very different location to the Googleplex in Mountain View (city center surrounded by railways and canals versus a very suburban setting by the San Francisco Bay), I think Google has done a nice job of recreating the sense of excitement and passion found in Silicon Valley. I enjoyed the views from the top floors of the Google offices out over Dublin Bay and the surrounding hinterlands, which definitely added to my knowledge of Dublin.

One thing’s for sure – I felt very old in the midst of the hordes of twenty-somethings that inhabit the Europlex. The number of different languages being spoken was also very noticeable, which isn’t altogether surprising as the Dublin center provides many shared services to other Google offices throughout EMEA.

Taking the Google theme further, it was good to read that the fine people who monitor Internet traffic in Iran have unblocked Gmail. People all over the Islamic Republic breathed a sigh of relief as they regained access to their mailboxes, even if the Gmail user interface must look as good in Iranian as it does (in my oft-expressed opinion) in English. Apparently the desire was to block YouTube traffic so that Iranians couldn’t see videos online that might be critical of the regime but the interdiction was too severe and the “unintended consequence” interrupted service from other Google services.

Also in the world of Google, an October 1 post on the “Google Operating System” blog said that Gmail is now able to search inside attachments, including PDF files, Word documents, and PowerPoint presentations. I must say that I always thought that Gmail could search inside attachments, largely because I made a large jump from “Google is great at search technology” to that understanding. How wrong assumptions can make our understanding be sometimes.

In any case, Exchange has offered similar search capabilities for some time now. Server-side searching to support always-connected clients such as Outlook Web App (OWA) was enabled in Exchange 2007 and Exchange 2010 improved performance and stability of its content indexing. When you use Outlook in cached Exchange mode, it indexes the contents of the OST and PSTs using Windows Desktop Search to perform searches locally rather than going to the server. Both Exchange content indexing and Windows Desktop Search depend on iFilters to open and index specific file formats. Exchange 2010 and Exchange 2013 use the Office Filter Pack 2.1 for this purpose, which contains iFilters for the most common file formats, including all of those generated by Microsoft Office.

However, PDF is not one of the file formats that is included in the Office Filter Pack. If you want to index PDF files, you need to download and install the PDF iFilter from Adobe. The same software can be used for both Exchange and Windows 64-bit PCs running Outlook. The installation is pretty quick and once in place, the new iFilter is available to the Windows Indexing Service and eventually any PDFs will be inserted into the indexes and so exposed to search queries. Interestingly, Exchange Online (Office 365) might not index PDFs as some tests that I ran discovered that PDFs sent as attachments were always discovered by Outlook but never by OWA. Based on the list of supported file types for multi-mailbox searches, it seems that the Exchange Online people haven’t gotten around to installing the Adobe PDF iFilter. Maybe Microsoft thinks that Adobe will charge them a stack of money if they use their iFilter. For whatever reason, I think that it’s a great pity that Exchange Online (aka “the service”) can’t index PDFs as so many business documents are transported in this format today.

Of course, Exchange 2013 makes some change the underpinnings of its search facilities. Users won’t care as long as their searches are fast and accurate, but those who care about technical detail will delight in the fact that Exchange 2013 drops the MSSEARCH engine and instead shares the Windows Search Foundation (aka FAST) with SharePoint 2013 and Lync 2013 to provide the basis of cross-product searching. Given that Exchange 2013 still requires the Office Filter Pack to be installed before it can be deployed, the iFilters are still used in the same way. Another difference is that the Exchange 2013 version of OWA is able to work offline (provided you have a modern browser), but offline mode has no search capability because OWA still depends on a server connection for its content indexes.

Finally, here’s a page that lists various sources of information about Exchange that you might like to bookmark. Blogs, twitter links, and books to read. Something useful could be found here!

Follow Tony @12Knocksinna


About Tony Redmond

Lead author for the Office 365 for IT Pros eBook and writer about all aspects of the Office 365 ecosystem.
This entry was posted in Cloud, Email, Exchange, Exchange 2010, Office 365 and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Searching, iFilters, and attachments

  1. Joe Mendes says:

    You know Tony, after loading up Exchange 2013 and seeing EAC and the new OWA interface, what you said in Las Vegas last year hit me in the face like a heavyweight boxer. Engineering resources are being used mostly for cloud development. Well as I look at this EAC admin tool and the new OWA, that’s exactly what we got. I won’t even bother writing down what these lack and how truely bad they are, it’s obvious. This is a new improved OWA? What is Microsoft doing trying to imitate google apps? I thought the idea was to make OWA look as much like the beautiful Outlook client as possible in a web browser, which microsoft successed in doing in the past. The last great admin tool we saw was Excahnge 2003 ESM, all that lacked was powershell. Starring with 2007 the admin tool was all down hill, and we have now almost hit the bottom. Exchagne 2015 will just be a shell, the good old days of Microsoft creating easy to use GUI tools that made windows and and windows server so successfull are gone and it’s evident. But I guess were all going to the cloud anyway so I guess they just don’t care.

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