Microsoft on Monday released its promised desktop search application, focusing on adding local e-mail and file search into MSNs browser toolbar, Outlook and the Windows operating system.
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.
To deal with privacy and security issues, MSN is taking advantage of the authentication and user account controls in Windows. In cases where multiple people use a Windows PC, MSNs desktop search controls access so that users can search only e-mails and files from their own accounts, said Christopher Payne, corporate vice president of MSN Search and Shopping.
MSN also does not search Web site visiting history by default in an attempt to avoid issues with secure Web pages such as bank account information being indexed, Payne said.
Googles desktop search has raised some concerns among analysts and enterprises for not providing any controls over what its desktop search indexes on shared machines and for indexing secure Web pages by default.
Mehdi said the MSN Toolbar Suite could reach more than 100 million users from the companys MSN Messenger and the MSN.com Web.
The desktop search suite will be generally available early next year, he said. The beta is available in English only as a free download.
One feature MSN has not included in the toolbar suite is the ability to search across its MSN services.
Yahoo executives have said the companys desktop search beta will be updated throughout next year to search e-mails and files from such Web-based Yahoo services as its online address book, Yahoo Messenger and Yahoo Mail.
Asked about whether MSN had similar plans with its services such as MSN Messenger and MSN Hotmail, MSN executive did not provide any details and instead pointed out that the toolbars provide links to launch MSN services.
The MSN Toolbar Suite runs on Windows XP or Windows 2000 Service Pack 4 and requires Internet Explorer 5.01 or later. To run e-mail indexing, the suite requires either Outlook 2000 or later or Outlook Express 6.0 or later.