Microsoft Previews Windows Search 4.0

The update to Windows Search fixes most of the bugs users have reported since the system was released to manufacturing, a product manager claims.

Microsoft has made a public preview of Windows Search 4.0, the next version of desktop search for Windows, available for download.

Windows Search is the desktop search engine for Windows Vista and Windows XP, and allows users to search for files, photographs, e-mail and Word documents on their PCs.

Microsoft released on March 27 the Multilingual User Interface Pack and Windows Search 4.0 Preview for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003, all of which can be downloaded here.

"With Windows Search 4.0, the Windows Search Team has fixed most of the reported bugs causing a majority of distractions users have seen since Windows Vista was released to manufacturing-many of those bugs were reported by you," Nick White, a product manager, said in a post on the Windows Vista team blog.

Improving desktop search has become increasingly important to Microsoft, particularly as it lags behind Google on this front. If Microsoft succeeds in its bid to acquire Yahoo, that could help close the gap with Google in desktop search and advertising and, thanks to Yahoo's strong mobile presence, could possibly even help Microsoft gain an advantage over Google.

According to a Knowledge Base article published March 27, the search engine in Windows Search 4.0 is a Microsoft Windows service that is also used by programs such as Outlook 2007 and OneNote 2007. "You can use this search engine to index a program's content and to obtain instant results when you search in a particular program," it said.

Windows Search 4.0 brings improvements both for consumers and IT professionals managing enterprise environments, including improved performance when indexing Exchange in online mode, with fewer packets being sent and fewer RPC (remote procedure call) calls being made. This has the added benefit of putting less load on the Exchange server, White said.

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Support for Group Policy settings has been extended and improved, and a per-user policy is now supported. Windows Search 4.0 also now supports EFS (Encrypting File System) and will index encrypted files.

"A user can search for them in the same user interface and through the same user experience as seen with regular, unencrypted files. IT professionals can expect a smooth deployment for Windows Search 4.0 and easier support," White said.

Microsoft has been doing a lot to improve the performance and reliability of Windows Vista since the operating system was made widely available in January 2007. In December 2007, the Windows Serviceability Team released a preview update to be included in Vista SP1 that the team said improved Vista's performance and reliability.

On the consumer front, Windows Search 4.0 also brings improved performance, with even this preview version having a query response time about 33 percent faster than search queries in Windows Vista, while Remote Index Discovery for PC-to-PC search has been extended to work on every supported version of Windows, White said.

"This makes finding information on other PCs running Windows Search 4.0 quick and less resource-consuming. Now Windows Search can find information shared on a remote PC by accessing an index on that PC-and you will open files only when relevant to your search. This will also work if the user's profile is redirected," White said in the blog post.

Rollback Recovery is another feature that has been added, allowing the search index to roll back to the last known good state, which is useful for handling disc write errors, he said, noting that if an error occurs, only the newly changed files are added to the index, making recovery from system errors less disruptive to the machine or the user.

"With Windows Search 4.0, the Windows Search Team has taken the next step in improving the PC search experience in Windows ... I encourage folks to try out the Windows Search 4.0 Preview and let us know what you think," White said.