Yahoo on Tuesday became the latest search engine to provide a product for searching hard drives, following similar launches by rivals Google, Ask Jeeves and Microsoft.
With the release of its Yahoo Desktop Search, Yahoo makes good on the promise it made in December that it would launch a desktop search tool this month.
Like the competing products from Google, Ask Jeeves and Microsoft, the Yahoo software is being released as a test version, called a beta version in computer industry parlance.
Desktop search tools are designed to help users find information stored in their PC hard drives, a task that utilities included with the Windows operating systems traditionally have performed poorly.
Demand among consumers for desktop search tools isn't massive today, but moderate, as was the demand for Web browsers in the early to mid-1990s, said Whit Andrews, a Gartner analyst. "We're certainly seeing demand among tech-savvy people who are knowledge workers," he said. "This is the kind of tool they love."
Desktop search tools have existed for years, he said. "Once you had e-mail, you began to have a need for this," Andrews said. But the market is changing with the recent arrival of search engines, because they are providing tools that are free, easier to install and more intuitive to use, Andrews said.
However, Andrews cautions that while these tools are appropriate for personal use by individuals, businesses should make sure their employees don't install them on corporate PCs, because of data security and privacy concerns. "A desktop search tool in an unprotected laptop makes any imaginable information immediately visible," Andrews said.
Yahoo will make its Yahoo Desktop Search application available as a free download at http://desktop.yahoo.com.
Based on technology Yahoo licensed from desktop search specialist X1 Technologies, the Yahoo Desktop Search application can index over 200 different types of files, including those created by Microsoft's Word, Excel and PowerPoint and Adobe Systems's PDF and PhotoShop. The tool can also index the content of Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express e-mail messages and their attachments.
Yahoo Desktop Search lets users preview the content of the files it finds, so that they don't necessarily have to launch the files in their native applications in order to view them. The tool even plays audio and video files without the need to launch them in a separate media player. It also lets users sort, delete, print and share files it finds right from its interface.
Letting users perform a variety of actions on the list of desktop search results reflects Yahoo's "holistic view of search," said Bradley Horowitz, Yahoo's director of multimedia and desktop search. The search activity doesn't end with the delivery of a list of results but rather when the user has completed the task that prompted the search, he said. "This application delivers on that agenda," Horowitz said.
Another feature of Yahoo Desktop Search is that it searches for files as the user types the query, as opposed to waiting for the user to hit a search button. Yahoo Desktop Search also allows users to specify which files they want and don't want indexed, and to refine searches based on a variety of parameters.
Yahoo isn't trying to replicate the functionality of X1's desktop search product, Horowitz said. For one, Yahoo's tool is being designed with consumers in mind, while X1's product is aimed at business users, he said. Moreover, Yahoo plans to tightly integrate its desktop search tool with its online services, such as its Web mail service and online address book. That integration will not be part of X1's product. A final and significant difference between the two products is that Yahoo has no plans to charge for Yahoo Desktop Search, while X1 charges for its application, he said.
Yahoo Desktop Search currently only works with computers running Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser on Windows XP and Windows 2000 operating systems.
Other companies that provide applications for searching hard drives include Copernic Technologies, Blinkx and Lycos.