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Take control of your desktop chaos

Desktop search apps represent next frontier in jointly navigating the Web and operating system.

Stefanie Olsen Staff writer, CNET News
Stefanie Olsen covers technology and science.
Stefanie Olsen
2 min read
Dragging and dropping files into organized desktop folders can be a chore for everyone but the most fastidious. A new technology, however, aims to do most of the work for you.

Upstart Blinkx on Monday introduced version 2.0 of its software for searching the desktop. The cornerstone to the downloadable application is "smart folders," technology that probes the PC and Web for files related to a designated topic. Users can name a folder or describe a topic of interest with a few keywords, and the software will collect related e-mail, music, Web pages, PDFs or text documents based on an analysis of their content and concepts.

"You can also train it by adding one or two documents. It reads those and adds related information, be it e-mail, attachments, Word documents," Blinkx CEO Mark Opzoomer said.

Blinkx is a nascent player in a market being eyed by all the major Internet portals. Desktop search is seen as the next frontier in jointly navigating the Web and the operating system for its utility to PC users, who typically have only rudimentary search and find functions on their computer. Desktop applications could also deliver a competitive advantage for Internet search companies that can gain loyalty from visitors.

America Online, MSN and Yahoo all plan to introduce a desktop-search application in the coming months, and Google recently began testing its own. Many smaller companies including X-1 Technologies and Copernic are also trying to gain traction with Web surfers for competing desktop-search tools.

Meanwhile, Microsoft and Apple Computer are also developing improved tools for searching the operating system and Web simultaneously. Both companies have talked about smart-folder technology, but have yet to introduce it.

Blinkx, a privately held company based in San Francisco, introduced its first-generation software in July. The free application indexes files on the desktop and lets users search for information contained in more than 200 types of files. The search technology also automatically finds information or links associated to content a user is viewing, both from the Internet and the PC.

The new version also includes a feature called "Stuff I've seen," a folder with cached, or previously seen Web pages. Blinkx 2.0 also connects users to peer-to-peer file-sharing networks.

Opzoomer said the company protects users' privacy by not sending personally identifiable information to its servers; data sent back and forth to its servers is encrypted.

The company has yet to make money, however. It eventually plans to place contextually relevant advertisements into its tool, but it has yet to do so.

"All of a sudden, desktop search is a pretty crowded market and it's going to be hard to compete with the big guys," said Jupiter Research analyst Gary Stein. "With smart folders, I think they have a shot."