Extras - Speed-Reading Software: Copernic Summarizer

M. Sean Fosmire is an attorney with the Michigan law firm of Garan Lucow Miller, P.C.

Summarizer is a new offering from Copernic, the company whose flagship product is Copernic 2001, a standalone web search utility. This product is a powerful tool which can help lawyers and anyone else who regularly has to read and review multiple lengthy documents.

The name is something of a misnomer. This product does not so much summarize as condense lengthy documents in an intelligent way. It picks out the choice bits and presents them to the user, together with a listing of "concepts", which are key words or phrases which the program has identified and harvested from the text. Although using this program does not substitute for reading the full text, it can be an excellent way to take the first plunge into a lengthy document.

The program will process a web page, a selection of text, or a document. Summarizer handles Word files, PDF files, text and RTF documents as well as entries from Microsoft Outlook and web browsers. (WordPerfect users are left out again, but a quick translation to another of the supported formats is a workaround.) It will handle documents in English, French, Spanish, and German.

A document can be opened in several ways -- using a "summarize" button on the main page, opening a folder icon on a floating toolbar, choosing a menu item or toolbar button within one of the integrated applications, by a right-click on the file while in Explorer, or by being dragged and dropped onto a "drop box" on the floating toolbar. A URL may be entered, using the summarize button, or a web page may be condensed by right-clicking on a link while in Internet Explorer. Summarizer can also process text currently on the clipboard.

The actual work of condensing the text is amazingly fast, and the ultimate product as contained in the "summary view" is quite readable, albeit somewhat disjointed. Each "item" in the summary view is a full sentence taken from the original. Summarizer allows the user to quickly reset of the degree of condensation. The default is 25%, which means that the summary view will display 25% of the text of the original. If desired, the user can shorten the display by changing this to 10% or 5%, or lengthen it up to 50% of the original. Displays of 100, 250, or 1,000 words may also be chosen.

Clicking on an item within the summary view will highlight the entire item. Hitting Ctrl-C will copy the entire sentence, for use elsewhere. This can be particularly powerful if the user combines this feature with text collection tools such as Clipmate, Zoot, or NoteTab Pro.

The number of concepts defaults to 15, but this can also be changed. Clicking on a concept will highlight each occurrence of that concept in the condensed text for quick perusal. (A useful improvement would be a filter which would display only matching items when a concept is selected.) If the program has missed the mark, a concept may be deleted, as can any individual item within the summary view. There is no provision for adding a concept, however.

The summary, including the list of concepts, may be printed, exported (to text, RTF or HTML), or e-mailed.

The program does have a couple of drawbacks. Summarizer does nothing to identify the location within the file from which an item is taken, and there is no way to quickly jump from an item in the summary view to the corresponding sentence in the original. The original document or web page is linked to the title of the summary view but, for some strange reason, trying to go to a web page from Summarizer brings up StarOffice's web browser, even though that browser is not the default browser and even though StarOffice is not listed among the programs which integrate with Summarizer.

Copernic's Summarizer costs $60, but is offered at a reduced rate of $47.99 for a short time. A 30-day evaluation version is offered at the company's web site, at http://www.copernic.com.