MSN Joins the Desktop Search Fray

Microsoft has launched its long anticipated desktop search application, and it’s packed with promising features and tools that make it a strong contender coming out the gate.

MSN Desktop Search, available today as part of the MSN Toolbar Suite Beta, installs as both a browser toolbar and optionally in the Windows taskbar as an unobtrusive search form.

Like the recently released Google Desktop he program indexes the contents of your personal computer and email, if you’re a Microsoft Outlook user. MSN Desktop indexes more types of content than the Google Desktop, however, including photos, music, email attachments, programs and other types of content. Unlike the Google Desktop, the MSN Desktop does not index web pages that you’ve viewed.

Search results are displayed in a popup window as you type, progressively reducing the number of results as you type additional letters in your search terms—a neat feature. Results are tagged as files or “all other items” to help you quickly differentiate between things like word documents and spreadsheets you created and other content on your computer.

These instant results are simply filenames, allowing you to quickly pull up content that you recognize. For more comprehensive search results with descriptions, dates, file sizes and other details, you can click a button to either search desktop items or web items, and expanded results are displayed in a browser window.

Controls along the top of these expanded results allow you to limit results to documents, email, pictures and video, music, and a wide range of other file types.

The program offers a number of useful shortcuts. In addition to providing quick access to files on your computer, you can also launch applications, documents, files and web sites through the Deskbar by creating and using custom shortcuts.

You can also create web shortcuts that access and search specific web sites with commands that take just a few keystrokes. This command line power will appeal to people who don’t mind taking the time to define shortcuts for frequently repeated searches.

MSN’s Desktop Search joins an increasingly crowded group including Copernic, Google Desktop, the forthcoming desktop search applications from Ask Jeeves and Yahoo.

I’ve only been able to do quick, preliminary tests using MSN Desktop, but so far I’m impressed with both the quality of search results and the speed with which they’re found. The indexing function is also “polite,” running in the background and stopping whenever computer resources are needed for another task.

One potential drawback if you’re already using another browser toolbar is that the Desktop search function is embedded within the overall MSN Toolbar Suite. Like it or not, you must install the browser toolbar to get the desktop search capabilities. The toolbar has a lot of useful functions, such as a popup blocker, a form fill utility and other tools, but it also takes up a lot of space, even when configured to display only icons rather than text and icons.

We’re planning a closer look at all of these new desktop search applications in January. We’re going to do a “roundtable” with all three Search Engine Watch editors putting the programs through their paces and debating the pluses and minuses of each competitor. Stay tuned.

System Requirements for MSN Desktop

  • MSN Toolbar Suite Beta requires Microsoft Outlook 2000+ or Microsoft Outlook Express 6.0+ to index and search your email
  • Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.01 or later must be installed, though it does not need to be your default browser
  • Pop-up Blocker requires Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.5 or later
  • Pentium 233MHz processor or better (500MHz recommended)
  • Microsoft Windows XP operating system or Windows 2000 SP4 or above
  • Minimum 128MB of RAM (256MB recommended)
  • 500MB of hard disk space recommended. Your index size depends on how much content you have on your hard drive.
  • 1024 x 768 screen resolution recommended

Want to discuss or comment on this story? Join the MSN Toolbar Suite Beta Live discussion in the Search Engine Watch forums.

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