Microsoft ups ante in desktop search

New MSN Search Toolbar debuts as software giant labors to catch up in desktop search with Yahoo and Google.

Microsoft has released a final version of its desktop-search software as it tries to enhance its presence in the burgeoning market staked out by rivals Yahoo and Google.

Microsoft, which is laboring to catch up in Web search, has taken advantage of its software background to create an Internet application for finding documents on the hard drive. The MSN Search Toolbar with Windows Desktop Search, released Monday, is a free download that searches over e-mail, Word documents, PDFs and Web pages, among other file types.

After five months of testing the software and 1 million downloads, the company has unveiled an update with several added improvements. Those include capabilities to preview desktop search results in a windowpane, which is characteristic of Microsoft Outlook.

"Fast search is great, but people want to take better action on search results without having to open up a specific file," said Dane Glasgow, product manager for MSN Search.

Microsoft is vying for new credibility in the multibillion-dollar Web search market dominated by Google and Yahoo--and central to its campaign is the desktop. With its Longhorn launch slated for next year, Microsoft is developing enhanced search software that combines navigation for Web and desktop files straight from the operating system. The toolbar is a step toward that goal.

Still, Google and Yahoo are protecting their turf with desktop-search software of their own. Google recently took the wraps off its search tool after a five-month test phase. Yahoo introduced its service earlier this year in partnership with X1 Technologies; the company is still testing the software.

All of the rivals are counting on desktop software to boost loyalty among their visitors and, in turn, increase their advertising revenue from sponsored search listings.

To address some privacy concerns with desktop search tools, Microsoft updated the software to let people control which files the software indexes and how often. In addition, the company is allowing developers to create plug-ins for the toolbar so that it will search other file types not already included in indexing.

In the coming months, Microsoft's MSN will also add a "tabbed browsing" feature. It plans to introduce a corporate version of the software sometime later this year.

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