After five months in beta, Microsoft has released the final version of its desktop search application, incorporating many new features based on extensive user feedback.
Microsoft has significantly beefed up the degree of control you have over desktop search, both in the initial set up process and in the desktop search options.
Among the improvements is the ability to specify which items should be indexed. You can use a simple dialog box to select email and all hard disks, email and the contents of the My Documents folder, or select specific files and locations to be indexed using an explorer-like panel.
Advanced indexing options also allow you to specify file types to be indexed as text, and list a set of file types that should not be indexed. With both of these options, the program comes preconfigured with a number of appropriate file types. MSN Desktop Search can index more than 200 file types, but you can also add "IFilters" to index additional file types; see Desktop Search IFilters for more information
You can now also select where your index file is stored, and boost the priority of the indexing process, so that files will be continually indexed even if your computer is busy. This will slow down the performance of most computers, but does have the advantage of providing nearly instant access through search to all files you create.
The MSN Search Deskbar, which installs in the task bar, has a number of useful controls, including options to search as you type, save and display your search history, set the default to search either your desktop or the web, and the ability to change background image on the Deskbar.
One of the most noticeable additions is a preview pane that displays the contents of items on your PC directly from the Desktop search results view. This is similar to the preview feature in Yahoo's desktop search application, but Microsoft's preview is painfully sluggish compared to Yahoo's, to the point of being virtually unusable on my computer.
You can turn the preview off, and you can easily launch the application associated with a file by right clicking on its search result and selecting a program from the context menu. This lets you open a Word file, reply to an email message, listen to an audio file and so on directly from search results—a useful feature.
You can also launch applications directly from the Deskbar using "shortcuts." Type the name of a program preceded by an exclamation point (!) to see this in action. You can also create your own shortcuts.
As with the beta release, the MSN desktop search application requires the MSN Search Toolbar to be installed, and the product integrates into Internet Explorer. Firefox users take note, however: If your default browser is Firefox, initiating a web search from the MSN Deskbar will call up your default search engine in a Firefox window.
Although you must have the MSN Search Toolbar installed to use MSN Desktop search, options allow you to select which features are enabled on the toolbar, and to hide the MSN navigation links if you don't use services such as Hotmail, Messenger and so on.
Notably, you can also change your default search engine from MSN Search to any other search engine.
One feature missing from the final release that was available in the beta version I tested is tabbed browsing, a feature that MSN says will be added soon. With tabbed browsing, you can set up "routines" or collections of web pages that open in tabs, much like you can do with Firefox bookmarks right now.
Overall, the final release of the MSN Toolbar Suite is a significant improvement over the beta versions I tested. The product remains heavily Microsoft-centric, however, and is best suited to those who are regular users of Microsoft Office and Internet Explorer.
MSN Toolbar Suite Download
MSN Toolbar Suite Requirements
- Pentium 233MHz processor or better (500MHz recommended)
- Microsoft Windows XP operating system or Windows 2000 Service Pack 3 or greater
- Minimum 128MB of RAM (256MB recommended)
- 500MB of hard disk space recommended. Index size depends on how much content is indexed on the local hard drive
- 1024x768 resolution screen recommended
- MSN Desktop Search requires Microsoft Outlook 2000 or later or Microsoft Outlook Express 6.0 or later to index and search email
- Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.01 or later must be installed; it does not need to be the default browser.
- Pop-up Blocker requires Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.5 or later
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