AOLs entry into the space pits it directly against rival Microsoft Corp., which has designs for a desktop search engine of its own.
AOL Desktop Search is one of many value-added features shoring up America Onlines upcoming alternative Web browser, currently code-named AOL Browser. AOL Browser is a stand-alone application based upon Internet Explorer and is independent from AOLs client software.
Although AOL Browser shares the same underlying engine as Microsofts Internet Explorer, many features more commonly found in AOLs Netscape brand can be found in the release. These additions include tabbed browsing, a pop-up blocker and toolbar buttons that produce thumbnails of Web pages when users hover over them.
AOL Browser is also the lynchpin of an emerging strategy to increase the utility of AOL.com, which has coincidentally undergone a recent makeover.
AOL Desktop Search is an integrated feature that will allow users to search for a plethora of files including documents in Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint, as well as PDF, HTML, WordPerfect, rich text and plain text files. In addition, users can scour through Web pages they have previously seen in Internet Explorer, AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) chat logs, locally stored newsgroups and Web logs, as well as digital media and pictures.
The softwares next iteration—scheduled to be unveiled sometime in 2005—extends existing newsgroup and blog search functionality to the Web. Other additions that are in store for members include searches for e-mail sent or received via AOL Mail and the ability to search AOL host content and content saved on AOL. For non-members, integration into Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express will be offered.
Commenting on AOLs intentions to build a desktop search utility, Jupiter Research senior analyst Joe Wilcox told BetaNews, "Desktop search is heating up, particularly as Google and MSN plan to expand into that area. Microsoft isnt expected to improve Windows search capabilities for another two years, when Longhorn ships."
"But AOL customers, which increasingly interact with the vendors digital content services, need better search before then. AOL search tied to its existing service and extended to the Windows desktop would be an enticing utility," Wilcox said.
As Longhorn development continues to encounter delays, Microsoft has demoed a prototype desktop search technology that was integrated into the MSN Toolbar add-on for Internet Explorer, while Microsofts MSN business unit has publicly unveiled a Web log search engine dubbed blogbot. The software giant promises to cycle its resources toward developing search technologies on an "immense scale."
Departing from its longstanding "members only" business strategy, AOL has opened up to outsiders. Most recently, the company has offered subscribers open e-mail access to third party clients, a separate dialer to connect to the Web, and a beta of its next generation FanFare client. FanFare delivers on AOLs Open Client Platform initiative known as "Copland," and is an alternative means of accessing communications and digital content for broadband users.
AOLs latest contribution to non-members will be a free public preview of AOL Browser, which will include AOL Desktop Search, according to the company.