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Microsoft Launches Windows Desktop Search

MSN's latest Search Toolbar for Internet Explorer (IE) has been finalized and renamed as MSN Search Toolbar with Windows Desktop Search, a moniker designed to show customers that the software giant is ready to play hardball in what is seen as a crucial new market. Windows Desktop Search, like Apple Spotlight, a feature in Mac OS X 10.4 "Tiger," integrates into the operating system and provides pervasive document and email searching functionality. Previously, Microsoft had promised to deliver Windows Desktop Search functionality in Longhorn, the next Windows version, now due in late 2006.

"By offering the most integrated desktop search capabilities for Windows, now people can search their PC as fast as they can search the Web," says Yusuf Mehdi, the senior vice president for the MSN Information Services & Merchant Platform division at Microsoft. "The new MSN Search Toolbar makes it easy for customers to find precisely what they're looking for, no matter where it resides."

Even during the beta, the MSN Search Toolbar with Windows Desktop Search was nicely done, but the release version adds a few niceties that put it over the top. First, Setup now offers a variety of great options, letting you pick which toolbars you want installed. Available toolbars, which act as entry points to the search functionality, include the Deskbar, which sits in the Windows Taskbar; the Search Toolbar for Outlook; the Search Toolbar for Windows Explorer; and the Search Toolbar for IE. You can configure which folders get indexed, which document types are indexed, and even where the search results index is stored if you'd like. Most astonishingly, you can specify a non-MSN search engine for Web searches. So if you want to use this tool but prefer Google for Web searches, you're good to go.

Performance has also been improved somewhat dramatically. Windows Desktop Search now performs an initial index of your hard drive much more quickly and then consumes fewer resources while running.

MSN Search Toolbar with Windows Desktop Search will run on Windows 2000 and Windows XP, and is free, according to MSN representatives I spoke with last week. A corporate version of the tool is coming later this year as well.

One key feature that MSN had added late in the beta was tabbed browsing for Internet Explorer (IE). That feature, however, is not in the version MSN shipped publicly today. "Tabbed browsing is a great feature, and every is very excited about it," Larry Grothaus, the Lead Product Manager for MSN Marketing told me. "But we didn't have enough time to test it, and we wanted to get Windows Desktop Search out. We will deliver tabbed browsing in the next couple of weeks as an add-on for the Toolbar." Grothaus noted that the tabbed browsing feature will be available on the MSN Add-ins Web site, which launched this morning. I was able to test the tabbed browsing feature for a few weeks and found that it worked exactly as you'd expect.

My review of MSN Search Toolbar with Windows Desktop Search will be available soon on the SuperSite for Windows. This week, I'll also be providing an in-depth look at the recent changes at the MSN division at Microsoft and examine how it became one of the most highly-charged and exciting parts of the company. These are heady times for MSN: Once lost adrift in failed strategies surround traditional online services and Web-based content, the MSN division is now spearheading some of Microsoft's key strategies.

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