This Search Tool Remembers Every File You've Ever Looked At

I know every Word document, PDF, email and text message that's sitting on my assorted computers and mobile devices. The trouble is tracking down exactly where they are. I'll eventually find them, but not before several fruitless searches trying to remember the exact file name of what I'm looking for.

Atlas Informatics feels my pain and the agony of anyone who's ever wasted more than a few minutes trying to find an illusive document. The company has developed a product called Atlas Recall that promises to remember every document, message and file that ever appears on any of your devices' screens and retrieve them — along with any related material — whenever you ask for it.

"If you've ever seen it, you can search for it and share it with anyone," is how Atlas CEO Jordan Ritter describes Atlas Recall's feature set.

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Users will now get to see for themselves how effective Atlas Recall is at tracking down those hard-to-find files. Atlas today is kicking off an open beta for its search product, with the Mac version now available to test out. A companion mobile app will let owners of iOS devices use Atlas Recall on their iPhones and iPads. A Windows 10 beta for Atlas Recall will be available soon.

Atlas Recall runs in the background of your devices, registering the files, photos and other information you interact with. That information gets stashed in a secure cloud — more on that in a moment — allowing you to retrieve items by searching for keywords, content types or specific time periods (say all the emails you received about a work project in the last week). "It works the way your memory does," Ritter says, only in this case, Atlas Recall's memory is photographic.

In addition to files, photos and documents, Recall can also take note of your social networking activity, messaging clients like Slack and notes that you save in programs such as Evernote.

Ritter showed me Recall in action by trying to find information about an upcoming interview with a job candidate whose name he couldn't quite remember. He launched Recall and typed in the name of the position ("security engineer") into the search field. Several related files popped up — resumés, emails and calendar appointments — appearing in a spiral view. Ritter could select the file he wanted or even multiple related files in a fraction of the time it would take most of us to meticulously hunt through assorted folders on our machines.

Atlas doesn't tout Recall as a replacement for built-in search tools like macOS's Spotlight or Windows's Cortana. Instead, the company sees Recall complementing those tools by extending your ability to search across multiple devices and platforms.

The ability to find anything that's ever crossed the screen of your computer or phone sounds impressive — and also a little bit foreboding if you fret about privacy. Atlas notes that the information stored in its cloud is encrypted and outlines its privacy policy on its website. (That said, Atlas does note that document metadata may be used to improve its search tools, which may raise a red flag for some users.)

You are able to control what information Atlas Recall does and doesn't see. Should a file turn up in an Atlas search that you'd prefer to keep completely out of view, you can remove it from searches on a permanent basis. A block feature lets you exclude URLs and applications if you'd prefer Recall didn't log activities such as your online banking or bill paying, for example. And the search tool also has a pause feature that temporarily stops Atlas Recall from taking noting of your files and activities until you allow the search tool to resume.

From the demo, Atlas Recall looks like a pretty powerful tool for speeding up searches of your files, images and messages, but the true test is going to come during this beta. I'm particularly interested in seeing exactly how good Recall can be at finding something when I only have a vague recollection of a few keywords or a general time frame of when the message or file I'm looking for was created. I'd also like to see just how robust Recall's privacy features are in practice and how seamlessly the block and pause tools fit into my daily workflow. The promise of near-instant access to precisely what I need to find, though, makes me eager to give the beta a try.