Called the MSN Toolbar Suite, the beta software indexes users e-mail and desktop files and includes a link into MSNs beta release of its Web search technology.
It includes four toolbars where users can conduct searches—one in Internet Explorer, another for Microsoft Outlook, a third in Windows Explorer and a fourth launched from the Windows taskbar.
MSN executives touted the toolbar strategy as a key difference from its competitors because it lets users search and view results from within popular Windows applications.
But to access the full toolbar suite, users must be running Microsoft Corp.s software, specifically Internet Explorer and Outlook or Outlook Express. The desktop search suite does not support alternative Web browsers or e-mail clients.
"Unlike other solutions that force you to go to a Web page to find out whats on your hard drive, in same familiar user experience of Windows or Outlook, we give you the results," Yusuf Mehdi, corporate vice president of the MSN Information Services & Merchant Platform division, said in a news conference.
While not naming Google Inc., Mehdi was referring to the top MSN competitor. Google in October launched a beta of the Google Desktop Search application and took an approach where users view a combination of local hard-drive and Web results from within Googles familiar Web interface.
With the Outlook integration, for example, MSNs desktop search indexes e-mail, calendar items, contacts, tasks and notes.
"If youre an Outlook user, then this basically revolutionizes the way you use Outlook," Mehdi said.
MSN had acquired a startup called Lookout Software LLC earlier in the year. Lookout made a plug-in search tool for Outlook, and MSN executives said the toolbar suite launch combined Lookouts technology with Microsofts development work.
MSN launched its desktop search beta amid a flurry of activity among the major search engines. Yahoo last week said it is licensing technology from X1 Technologies Inc. for a Yahoo desktop search application coming out in beta in early January.
Meanwhile, Ask Jeeves Inc. is releasing a beta of its desktop search client later this week.