Desktop search avalanche set to hit

Microsoft, Yahoo and Ask Jeeves are all set to jump into the desktop search space, two months after Internet search leader Google offered a test version of a tool that lets users search for information stored on their desktop computers.

Yahoo plans to debut a beta version of a new Yahoo Desktop Search tool in the coming weeks, the company said late Thursday. Meanwhile, Ask Jeeves is set to unveil its test offering Dec. 15, and Microsoft will release its desktop search beta next week as well, according to sources familiar with the company's plans.

Among the key benefits of desktop search tools is that users should be able to search through files on their desktops much faster and more thoroughly than they can with the search feature currently in Windows.

Yahoo's free Yahoo Desktop Search product will initially have a special focus on e-mail and e-mail attachments, as well as specific file types such as photos and music, according to Yahoo. The product will later be expanded so that users can search a broad range of Yahoo's online services, the company said.

Unlike Google, Yahoo has enlisted the services of a third party for its desktop search product. The tool is based on technology from X1 Technologies, which has been selling a tool for business users for several years. In March, X1launched its 3.0 product, which sells for US$74.95 per user.

"We evaluated all of our options and believe that X1's application would provide our users with the best desktop search solution," a Yahoo spokeswoman said. Terms of the deal between Yahoo and X1 were not disclosed.

The major Internet search players are jumping into the desktop search space to fill a void left by Microsoft, said X1 President Josh Jacobs. "The tools that are provided in the core operating system are not sufficient to find and to manage all the information on our desktops," he said.

Ask Jeeves plans to launch a beta version of its desktop search tool on Wednesday, said Jim Lanzone, the company's senior vice president of search properties. The tool will be positioned as a key component of the MyJeeves personal search service, he said

Currently, MyJeeves lets users store Web queries and results, but its scope will grow to include documents stored on users' PCs through the integration of the desktop search tool, Lanzone said.

"In the future, we imagine MyJeeves as a place for all your personal files: Web pages, photos, music files and so on. That way, MyJeeves becomes a platform for sharing that information with people in your work, family or hobby network," he said. "That's where this is all headed."

The beta version of the Ask Jeeves desktop tool will have some initial integration with MyJeeves, but that integration will grow deeper in the future, Lanzone said. Ask Jeeves will provide more details next week, he said.

Ask Jeeves expects to launch a final version of the desktop tool sometime next year, Lanzone said. The company views the race among desktop search providers "as a marathon and not a sprint," he said.

Microsoft first demonstrated its desktop search tool in July and has said publicly that it plans to release a beta version by year's end. The company acquired Lookout Software, which made a desktop search tool, earlier this year.

Ask Jeeves also acquired desktop search technology this year, when it bought Tukaroo in June. Lycos released its HotBot Desktop tool earlier this year.

The interest in desktop search is not surprising, industry analysts have said. Operators of Web search want to get on the desktop because it gives them more real estate on users' computers and thus more opportunity to display ads, said Matthew Berk, an independent analyst.

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