Microsoft has joined the desktop search fray with its release Monday of the beta test version of a suite of tools designed to let users find information stored in their PCs.
The new MSN Toolbar Suite is free and available for download now at http://beta.toolbar.msn.com/. In addition to an updated version of the MSN Toolbar for conducting Web searches using the company's Internet Explorer browser, the suite includes various toolbars for searching users' hard drives.
Among the PC files the suite can index and retrieve are calendar items, contacts and e-mail messages from Microsoft Outlook, as well as Microsoft Word and Microsoft PowerPoint files. The suite also indexes Adobe Systems PDF files.
Available now in English, the suite is expected to be released in other languages next year.
"People expect Microsoft to do a fantastic job on client code and searching within Windows and Office, and what we have delivered here ... is what people expected of us: the best way to search your PC," said Yusuf Mehdi, corporate vice president for the MSN Information Services and Merchant Platform division at Microsoft, during a news conference Monday.
Microsoft's rivals in the online search space, Google, Yahoo, America Online, Ask Jeeves and Copernic are all highly interested in ruling the desktop search market. Google delivered a beta version of its desktop search tool in October, while Yahoo announced last week it plans to launch its own tool next year. Ask Jeeves will offer details of its desktop search tool later this week, while AOL will provide desktop searching within a Web browser it is developing.
Microsoft believes it will be able to win over users through the tight integration it says the MSN Toolbar Suite has with the Windows environment and applications, which will let users conduct desktop searches within the applications they are familiar with, as opposed to having to operate within an external application, Mehdi said.
The tool, at this stage at least, does have some limitations. It doesn't index e-mail messages stored in IBM's Lotus Notes e-mail and collaboration system, Mehdi acknowledged. The suite indexes some picture files, such as GIFs and Bitmaps, but it wasn't immediately clear to what extent it indexes other types of multimedia files.
Although Mehdi repeatedly claimed that this suite of desktop search tools put Microsoft ahead of its competitors, the perception in the industry is that Microsoft could have locked up this market for itself for years, but left the door open to competitors because the hard drive searching tools within Windows have traditionally been subpar.