Yahoo Desktop Search, which will be available as a free download, is built on technology licensed from X1 Technologies Inc., a desktop-search startup. The beta will serve as the basis for a series of product updates in the next few months, said Bradley Horowitz, Yahoos director of media and desktop search.
"This is very much a first step," Horowitz said.
The updates are likely to include the ability to search across Yahoos other sites, such as its Web-based e-mail, address book and photo service, Yahoo executives have said.
The beta application scours users hard drives to index about 250 files types, including Microsoft Office documents, PDFs, executables and image and audio files. It also searches e-mails, the full text of attachments and contacts, but it only supports messages and contacts stored in Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express.
The Yahoo client features the ability to preview e-mails and files in a right-side panel as users click on results, and it dynamically displays search results as users type queries. The goal with the preview feature, in particular, is to make desktop search about more than finding e-mails and files, Horowitz said.
"Your search isnt done when you hit enter and see a page of search results returned to you," Horowitz said. "Generally, you are trying to complete a task."
For example, users can print previewed e-mails and documents or initiate a reply to an e-mail.
Yahoo, of Sunnyvale, Calif., is joining an increasingly crowded field of free desktop-search offerings. Google Inc. in October kicked off the raft of beta releases from Web search engines. Microsoft Corp.s MSN division and Ask Jeeves Inc. joined late last year.
Unlike Google, whose desktop search co-mingles desktop and Web results in Googles Web site interface, Yahoo has separated results into categories. Hard-drive results are displayed within the client, where users can search either within specific categories such as e-mail, attachments and contacts or across all desktop data.
Users also can enter a query for a Web search and are taken to results from the Yahoo Search Web site.
Yahoo has created more than one way to enter its desktop search. Along with the client, the beta downloads a deskbar, which allows users to enter queries from the Windows taskbar, and an Outlook-based toolbar for launching searches.
MSN also has followed a toolbar strategy with its desktop search product, incorporating it in Windows, Outlook and the Web browser.
The growth in desktop search has raised security concerns over the indexing of secure Web pages and with users who share PCs with others. For its part, Yahoo has decided not to index Web browsing history and says it indexes only the content that a user is authorized to access by the operating system.
But Yahoo did warn of one potential security hole. For users with archived Outlook e-mail, or .PST files, Yahoo Desktop Search can index and preview those files regardless of whether they are password-protected. Yahoo says it is aware of the issue and plans to fix it in a future release.
The Yahoo Desktop Search beta runs on Windows XP or on Windows 2000 with Service Pack 3 or Service Pack 4.