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Monday, December 13, 2004

Various rumours have been going around the net about the Microsoft announcement due today, and most of them were correct; Microsoft has launched their own desktop search utility. The link goes to MSN Toolbar Suite.

I've had a chance to play around with it pre-release and I really like it a lot - it knocks spots off Google's offering. In no particular order are some of the things that I like/dislike about it.

Installation is good - it's a 4.5meg download and it starts by indexing email and My Documents first. However, there is an option to get it to search Email and all hard disks (only local however, nothing across a network yet), or just email and My Documents or Specific locations. You can also get it to index email attachments as well. I like the way that Microsoft is giving the user much more choice on what is indexed. Also, desktop search doesn't look at the cache of web pages in the way that Google does, due to security concerns - I think Microsoft has seen a lot of the flack that Google has come under with regards to security issues, and decided to just step right around them. The indexing takes place in the background while you're not using your computer, and I was very happy with the way that it worked.. there were no annoying delays while the indexer 'switched itself off' when you wanted to get on and do something; it's very polite in that way.

The application itself is available in various places - in the users Start bar, and in the MSN toolbar along with various other applications for checking Hotmail for example, or getting straight into Messenger. It will also appear in Outlook as well, if you're interested in searching emails, always assuming of course that you use Outlook for email!

Desktop search is very tightly incorporated into the whole suite of Microsoft products, so you can get it to find files for you and open them there and then, or drag them to make a shortcut. If you want, you can set up a whole series of command line type shortcuts by typing @ which then brings up a whole shortcut desktop help function. This is actually very powerful indeed, since you could (if you wished) just start Word with a single character command. It's also possible to make a shortcut out of a specific search URL, so you could set up a search for MSN and then the actual search string you want to search on - I liked that a lot. Desktop search will, as you might expect, recognise default run commands.

Another feature that I liked was that when you start to search, the searchbar will automatically start to work out what you're interested in and will begin to refine the search down for you, breaking it down into different types of result. A search for MSN on my system for example immediately gave me access to various programs such as MSN Explorer or MSN Messenger, Mail and Communications, Files, and All other items. In theory therefore, I could pretty much get rid of the desktop icons that I've become so used to over the years, and use Desktop search as an enhanced Start/AllPrograms/ function.

This is obviously just a brief overview, but I'll add more later, and see if I can get a few screenshots too. In summary however, I think it's a far superior product to the Google offering, and I really like the way it's integrated into the Microsoft suite, which is power that Google can't offer.
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