We had no trouble installing the HotBot Deskbar; downloading and running the 1.5MB installation file (about three times as large as the other installers in our roundup) took less than a minute. After installation, you can add or remove buttons for the toolbar's various functions, although you can't add buttons for specific searches, such as domain or site queries, and you can't resize the small search box.
HotBot's toolbar offers the basic search options, including Web, current site, and current page, but you don't get any news, image, A/V, stock market, or weather searches. That said, you can set up custom searches using any site you want (you'll have to grab and tinker with the site's search URL)--great for those whose searches don't fall under the usual categories. For example, you can convert RGB notation numbers into hexadecimal, if you want. HotBot's toolbar also has the requisite highlighter that calls out search terms on the page you're visiting.
HotBot Deskbar's claim to fame is its ability to index your e-mail and files, à la Copernic and Google Desktop. Once the toolbar indexes your messages and files, you can search them via the toolbar--just select E-mail or Files from the drop-down menu. Unfortunately, we got spotty results from our e-mail and file searches, and HotBot's weak help files were of little use (click here for our full review of HotBot Desktop's indexing capabilities). HotBot Deskbar's other cool feature is its RSS reader, which lets you browse and even search RSS feeds within Internet Explorer. Meanwhile, HotBot Deskbar's pop-up blocker allows pop-ups from specific domains, but unlike with Yahoo's toolbar, you can't disable it completely, and it won't let you see recently blocked pop-ups.
In our on-the-Web search result testing, HotBot Deskbar gets a split decision, scoring first runner-up in the relevancy competition right behind Google and neck and neck with A9 but well behind the pack in breadth of search results, lagging behind Yahoo, AltaVista, Google, Ask Jeeves, and A9, in that order. HotBot had trouble returning relevant hits only on our search for friends and family.