capsule review

Six Degrees

At a Glance
  • Creo Six Degrees

If you sometimes spend far too much time looking for things you just know are on your Mac, Creo's inventive software for grouping and presenting information, Six Degrees, may be right up your alley. You could use a combination of Mac OS's built-in search utility, Micro-soft Entourage's Find function, and your own intuition to locate your stuff, but Six Degrees saves you that trouble. The OS X­ only application lets you pinpoint e-mail messages, contact information, and files anywhere on your computer -- even if you don't remember where you put them, who sent them to you, or their file names.

In our tests, Six Degrees proved itself trustworthy and truly innovative, but it had the roughness you'd expect from a 1.0 release. It needs some performance improvements, and the number of programs with which it's compatible is quite limited. Nonetheless, Six Degrees has the potential to change the way we use our Macs.

The Big Picture

Six Degrees is a one-window utility that runs in the background while you work, "watching" every click you make and then finding the connections between what you've clicked on and what Six Degrees perceives to be related to that item. One instance where this comes in handy is when you want to find your way back through an e-mail thread and its attachments. (As of this version, Six Degrees' e-mail component works only with Entourage X, though Creo intends to expand e-mail­client support.)

As a real-world example of Six Degrees in action, let's say that you and your colleague Sharon are working together on a proposal. And during a harried day last week, you forgot to save the most recent version in its usual place. Now you need to find it, and the only thing you recall is that the proposal was attached to an e-mail message Sharon sent you. To use Six Degrees to find the file, you'd simply click on Sharon's name in your Entourage Address Book, go into Six Degrees, sort the documents associated with Sharon by date, and boom -- there's the proposal. It'll take about 20 to 30 seconds for the search to run its course; but locating a file this way is far more expeditious -- and less frustrating -- than racking your brain and making do with lim-ited search utilities.

Working Its Magic

Six Degrees displays your results in its easily navigable interface, called the Legend, which offers a clean and intuitive design consisting of four buttons, the Focus field (which contains the subject of your search), a results window, and a blue progress bar. When you click on a file's icon or open a file anywhere on your Mac, Six Degrees displays that file's name in the Focus field and uses it as the starting point for your search. The program also adds the file name to the field's pull-down menu, which stores your entries and allows you to revert to them at any point.

You then use the three buttons to the left of the Focus field to see and sort results by related e-mail messages (red button), files (blue button), or people's names (yellow button), in the results window. You can change the focus, and thus narrow the search, by dragging a result up to the Focus field or by clicking outside of Six Degrees on a file icon anywhere in the Finder, an e-mail message, or name in your Entourage Address Book. After a bit of practice, this becomes a very fluid process that lets you home in on exactly what you're looking for.

Enhancing the Basics

Six Degrees is not only powerful but also very complex, and it can become unwieldy and confusing if you're not sure how to use it. Six Degrees is always busy forming new connections in the background while you work, and the entry in the Focus field reflects your every click. So if you return to the Legend after a time, you're likely to find new information there. This makes it hard to keep track of previous Six Degrees results. (Moreover, if you want to revert to a previous set of search results, expect to wait while Six Degrees runs the search again.)

However, there are two ways Six Degrees lets you solve this problem: First, you can click on the eyeball button in the interface to stop Six Degrees from building relationships -- this closes the eye, indicating that the program is no longer keeping track of your movements. Second, you can create a Six Degrees "project," a special Six Degrees­ formatted file that saves your results so you can come back to them later.

Now, the Catch(es)

We'll just come right out and say it: Six Degrees is slow, which is problematic for a utility that purports to save you time. The program took too long to find results and slowed down our test machine, a 450MHz Power Mac G4 with 512MB RAM. (Don't even think of using it on a G3.) We spent a lot of time staring at the blue progress bar at the bottom of the results window, unable to quickly switch back into Entourage, Word, or any other program while Six Degrees worked. Even after we'd quit Six Degrees, or when it wasn't tracking our movements, Entourage was incredibly unresponsive. (Creo says that it's working to improve Six Degrees' performance and planning to release updates that should fix many of these problems in the near future.)

We had no trouble using Six Degrees with Office X documents, whose names readily appeared in the Focus field when we opened them. And the well-organized user guide states that Six Degrees works with Classic apps such as QuarkXPress 4.11 or 5.0 and Adobe Photoshop, but when we opened files of those application types, their file names often didn't appear in the Focus field. When we clicked on the files in the Finder, however, Six Degrees recognized them -- an inconvenience Creo acknowledges in the included user guide.

Macworld's Buying Advice

Unless you're perfectly organized all the time (and who is?), you can probably make good use of Six Degrees. It makes connections more as a human being does and less as a machine does. Six Degrees is worth its $99 price if your programs are compatible and if you're willing to sacrifice speed for its otherwise powerful file-finding and organizing capabilities.

At a Glance
  • Pros

    • Very easy to use
    • Clear, concise printed user guide
    • Well-designed interface
    • Innovative

    Cons

    • Can cause serious system slowdowns
    • Limited application compatibility
    • Finds results slowly
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