Linux group aims for Google-like search

KDE developers are crafting a search engine for the desktop, but don't look for it just yet.

Developers of KDE have announced plans to simplify searching for files on the open-source Linux desktop environment by adding a Google-style search feature.

The next version of KDE, which will either be called 3.4 or 4, is expected to include the new search feature. It's likely to be released within the next 18 months. Aaron Seigo, a KDE developer, said the community has already been discussing and writing code for the new search engine at the KDE Community World Summit, which is taking place in Ludwigsburg, Germany.

The search engine will be included on the control panel and will build on KDE's current search functionality. "We are planning a Google-like search system for the control panel, although people will still be able to search for files by name," Seigo said. He pointed out that currently, it is much easier to find files on the Web than on a computer.

Seigo said the search tool is expected in the next version of KDE, but developers can't guarantee that it will be completed by then.

However, the developers may beat Microsoft to the punch with their improved search feature. The software giant has been discussing plans to boost the power of desktop search in Windows.

Improved search is part of Microsoft's plans for its next-generation operating system, Longhorn, due in 2007. Plans for Longhorn include a new method of file storage called Windows Future Storage (WinFS).

Microsoft's Web site says WinFS will revise the way users can search for files, regardless of which application created the data. A Microsoft spokeswoman said Wednesday that she could not give an update on how WinFS will work and when it will be available.

Improved search is just one of several planned interface enhancements for KDE. Developers also want to simplify its look and feel.

"We are planning on streamlining KDE. Developers love to build an interface with a million levers and buttons, but it's not easy to use. We want to make the interface more intuitive without limiting power," Seigo said.

Three professional usability experts have joined the KDE project and are helping improve the interface.

Seigo said open-source desktop software is traditionally not as easy to use as it should be, as developers have not met the needs of less technical users.

"Open source is traditionally written by programmers, for programmers," he said.

Seigo did not know how KDE would look in the future, but he hopes that the interface will become so intuitive that people will no longer think of it as a user interface.

"I don't know what KDE 4 will look like, but we hope that people will stop recognizing the fact that it is an interface."

But some in the open-source community doubt whether a Linux desktop will ever be able to rival the usability of a Microsoft Windows desktop. Paul Salazar, the European marketing director at Red Hat, said his company has chosen to focus on Linux on the server rather than on the desktop, due to the fact that it cannot compete with Microsoft's research and development budget.

"We made a profit of $125 million last year and reinvested 20 percent into research. Microsoft invests $7 billion a year in research and development. We can't match that," Salazar said.

Ingrid Marson of ZDNet UK reported from London.

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