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Inquisitor

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Inquisitor Icon Recently, version 2 of Inquisitor was released. It’s made by David Watanabe, the creator of NewsFire which is the slickest feed reader I know. Inquisitor is a plugin/hack for Safari that replaces Safari’s Google field by a richer version that tries to auto-complete what you are typing, offers previews of the search results while you’re typing and gives you access to other search engines.

Try and Buy

There are two facts about shareware: The good one is that the number of shareware programs which are reasonably good is surprisingly high and that there are real gems to be found in this ‘try before you buy’ world. The bad one is that people are notoriously bad at paying for shareware. The percentage of people actually paying the shareware fee is said to be regrettably low. Thus making it less attractive for people to create good shareware applications.

Of course there will be people who like to ‘steal’ shareware, but I guess that there might be a much larger number of people who are just too lazy to go and pay for the programs they are using. Invariably, doing so will mean they have to get out their credit card, worry about security and so on. Even with more standardised methods of payment around these days, from classical Kagi payments to modern PayPal money transfer, there always remains a large hurdle and effort for the buyer.

What about iTMS peddling shareware as well? Or amazon collecting the fees? Both of them seem to have many customers and most of the required logistics in place.

So shareware authors spend a lot of time worrying about how to get people to pay. Give them castrated demo versions? Trial periods? Nagging ‘reminder windows’? I suppose those help a bit, but they don’t make anyone particularly happy. The programmer is wasting his time on formalities like these and the user is annoyed by the application over and over before he spends the two minutes needed to actually pay.

Personally, I don’t like either of these schemes and thus, our Rechnungs Checker application, or any of the other applications don’t have any of these ‘enforcement’ features. And the download-to-registrations ratio is abysmally low, despite the price just being €5. That’s not a big problem, as the app paid for itself just by my own usage of it. But it’s still a shame. If not for the money, then for the lost recognition.

Inquisitor tackles the money problem from a completely different direction. You can try out an online version on the web. An approach that will only work for very few applications, but luckily Inquisitor is one of them. And if you like that rough HTMLised version, you’ll have to pay for the tool before you can download it. A very old concept for buying things but one that has mostly been forgotten on the web these days.

Well, it’s a bit different, in fact, as you’re just asked for a donation the height of which is at your discretion. The price frame Dave suggests is in the $1-$2 area. It’s a small tool, it should have a small price. Paying this kind of money up-front isn’t too bad. Even if you end up disliking the tool it’ll cost you less than a drink. So I’d be quite happy to see this little experiment with small PayPal payments working out.

Installation

But let’s look at Inquisitor itself. The first thing you see is an installer. I don’t like installers. First they get in your way and then they leave the impression that you don’t really know what they did to your computer. Particularly for a hack like this having an installer is convenient, though. But – with simplicity being nice and all – it should make clear what it does. Sure, it does offer to uninstall its files for you, which is good, but I’d also like to know which files it put where. If only for knowing whether I just installed Inquisitor for myself only or for all users of the computer.

Inquisitor Installer

Locating Inquisitor’s plugin isn’t too hard for the technically experienced Mac user who’ll note that there is no authentication dialogue during the install and thus the file will be in his own Library folder. And who’ll furthermore correctly assume that due to its hack-like qualities the tool will sneak itself into Safari by installing itself as an Input Manager. So there’s no mystery here… but the less technically minded user will have a very hard time locating Inquisitor’s files thanks to Spotlight’s daft design / brokenness.

After installing you’ll have to quit and re-launch Safari to ensure Inquisitor is loaded and you’re ready to go.

Features

Inquisitor has been greatly improved with version 2.1 which fixes most of the UI problems I report here. It even got a proper graphite colour scheme then!

Inquisitor Menu A good thing about Inquisitor is that it won’t get into your way unless you’re doing a search. It just looks like Safari’s usual Google search field, having only replaced the ‘Google’ string by its own ‘Inquisitor’. But once you type into that field, Inquisitor will start doing its work, which consists of

Offering auto-completion for the search term
This happens in two ways: First, the most likely completion is automatically added to the search field while you type. Second, the ‘Did you mean…’ section of the menu that pops upen will contain further terms, potentially with a star rating which could mean anything. The completions that are offered seem to be based on both your search history – those terms have a dark grey background – and some results gotten from Google.
Grabbing snippets of the search results
Also while you’re typing, Inquisitor will grab the page titles, URLs and content snippets for three results and display them right there in the menu. Interestingly those results aren’t necessarily the top three results of the Google query. Update: Read the comments to see where exactly these results come from. When you’re having a small Google field in Safari this means you won’t see a lot. And why would you want to have a wide Google field that blocks your sight on long URLs? So the design isn’t perfect here and optimised too much for good looks rather than usability.
Offering other search engines
Finally, Inquisitor will attach a list of further search engines at the very bottom of the menu. That’s not exactly new but it is useful and good to have. It’ll let you assign keyboard equivalents for the different search engines and add your own favourites to the list.

Weaknesses

While this short list of features is a good one trying to give you the best of both the world of using your computer locally and the world of interacting with web sites, Inquisitor still lacks a lot of polish. And not just polish but good usability.

Its main weakness is keyboard navigation. And you’ll want to keyboard navigate a lot – rather than using the mouse – just after typing in a search term. But keyboard navigation fails in many places. The first one, at least in my experience, is that the search term completion section aka ‘Did you mean…’ should be at the top of the menu. It’s more likely that you’ll want to use search term auto-completion than to jump to one of the results. As far as I can tell, that’s for a number of reasons. First of all, those snippets are relatively hard to read, particularly if your Google field is reasonably narrow. And secondly, you may want to browse several results anyway and it’s just handier to have the proper Google page displayed and to navigate back and forth from there. In this case things are a bit confusing anyway because it may be quite tricky to locate the results displayed by Inquisitor on the proper Google page.

So you’ll have to keyboard-navigate across those result snippets in most cases. Meaning three extra keystrokes in the case displayed above. Further handling of the arrow keys is quite strange as well. Pressing the down arrow will take you into the list just as you’d expect. But pressing the up arrow while at the top item of the list will activate the Google field again for typing and move the cursor to the beginning of the field. Unexpected and terribly impractical if you want to add something to your search term as you can’t just hit the down arrow once more to get the cursor to the end of the field because that will highlight the first menu item again. I assume this is an oversight. But it’s a strange one. The kind of oversight you’d expect in Apple software but not here.

Further glitches include that apparently the additional search engine entries cannot be re-ordered (e.g. to make the American and German amazon services stand next to each other in the screenshot above) and don’t have icons like the others do, or that clicking the magnifying glass icon in the search field won’t bring up a menu with your recent searches as it usually does but instead just opens Inquisitor’s window, even when the search field is empty and there’s nothing but the preferences button to press. This means you absolutely have to type stuff into the field rather than being able to lazily pick one of your previous search terms.

Conclusion

Inquisitor looks like a promising addition to Safari. ‘Promising’ means that it’s a good idea but still needs work. And with the buy-before-you-try model it may be harder to find excuses for that as it’s not a beta or a trial version. On the other hand, we’re only talking about a small amount of money here and most of the problems I mentioned shouldn’t be too hard to get right in future updates. But whether or not that happens is the developer’s decision and not yours.

October 26, 2005, 1:19

Tagged as software.

Comments

Comment by George Bezel: User icon

Dave steals yet again.

In inquisitor ajax, the search results are not provided by Google, they are powered by MSN Search.

Want proof? Check out http://www.inquisitorx.com/a.xml?q=Inquisitor%20lies and see what you see. This seems to also be against Microsoft’s policies on their experimental RSS feeds, as they state “please don’t recreate our search engine with them” on their weblog (http://blogs.msdn.com/msnsearch/archive/2005/01/11/351064.aspx — of course, this last part doesn’t bother me much).

Yet more examples of Dave’s flagrant lies and deceit. He states this information absolutely NOWHERE on his site, nor does he state that he uses Google suggest to power the other results. This is likely against Google’s notoriously strict API license as well.

October 27, 2005, 1:31

Comment by ssp: User icon

Interesting, George. I wasn’t aware of that before.

And I really dislike the fact that I am not told what the software does. Poking around a little, reveals that the online version of Inquisitor seems to use MSN as you say and the Safari version seems to use Yahoo. Indeed, Yahoo’s first search results are exactly those presented by Inquisitor, thus explaining the difference to the Google results you get. That’s a bit confusing.

Inquisitor also seems to try accessing Google.

October 27, 2005, 2:17

Comment by David Watanabe: User icon

George, if you want to know how it works, just ask me. It is deceptive to pretend that I am hiding anything when you never bothered asking me directly. It makes your motives questionable.

December 4, 2005, 4:47

Comment by David: User icon

how do I remove inquisitor? it is causing my Safari to freeze up alot.

March 9, 2006, 5:02

Comment by ssp: User icon

Dave, just run the installer again and click the uninstall button.

Or manually remove the file from the Input Managers folder in the Library folder of your home folder.

March 9, 2006, 8:37

Comment by How do I remove David?: User icon

…or, preferably, his heart and brain?

May 24, 2007, 11:35

Comment by rory: User icon

good evening

re. uninstalling Inquisitor - as suggested i’ve tried both to > “…run the installer again and click the uninstall button. WHICH THEN SAID “THANKYOU… UNINSTALLED”

HOWEVER…THAT DIDN’T WORK, SO “…manually remove the file from the Input Managers folder in the Library folder of your home folder”…

and, both counts, i’m still being told that i can’t empty it from my Trash because “…the item is in use.

[gulp!] help

August 9, 2007, 21:02

Comment by ssp: User icon

rory, no reason to worry in that case. You possibly still have some application running that’s still using Inquisitor. Any new instance of Safari you launch from now on will not use Inquisitor.

Quitting all applications should make Inquisitor deletable. (Or logging our or restarting the machine). But there’s really no need to do that right away as quitting and re-launching Safari should remove Inquisitor from the browser.

August 9, 2007, 23:47

Comment by Josh: User icon

Anyone know how to uninstall Inquisitor 3 running under Leopard? Unfortunately the installer doesn’t offer and ‘uninstall’ option. Moreover, I can’t seem to find any related files using spotlight.

Thanks for your help.

December 6, 2007, 8:20

Comment by ssp: User icon

It’s odd that Inquisitor 3 fails to provide an uninstall button.

To remove it from your system, delete the Inquisitor folder in /Library/InputManagers.

December 6, 2007, 9:17

Comment by Rorx: User icon

I’ve tried out both manually removing Inquisitor from /Library/InputManagers and /Library/Applicationsupport/ and it STILL THERE and crashing my safari 3 and webkit! Anyone having this much problem getting rid of Inquisitor?

December 10, 2007, 15:46

Comment by Gabriel: User icon

I need help too! I want to uninstall! :(

December 11, 2007, 21:35

Comment by Rafael: User icon

I removed it from MacintoshHD/Library/InputManager and it is no more on my safari, but I can’t delete it still. I guess I’ll have to do it with root. I hate that it has no search history that you can look into. And I didn’t even install it myself, my brother did. Oh well.

December 13, 2007, 15:15

Comment by Hank: User icon

It’s such BS that the installer doesn’t have a choice for uninstall. The programmer thinks he’s so good but can’t even provide a way to uninstall? Way to do a half-assed job!

December 18, 2007, 4:33

Comment by Rob: User icon

Three months later and Inquisitor 3 still has no uninstall option. What garbage, and what a waste of my time.

March 16, 2008, 2:57

Comment by jprao: User icon

User Terminal window and goto /Library/InputManagers and remove “Inquisitor” directory by using the following command “rm -rf Inquisitor”, then restart Safari.

March 19, 2008, 9:09

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