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Microsoft puts multisearch tool on show

Software giant demos prototype technology that can search both the Internet and a PC's hard drive.

REDMOND, Wash.--Microsoft on Thursday revealed the progress it has made in building search technology when it showed off a tool that can comb both the Internet and a PC's hard drive.

MSN Chief Yusuf Mehdi demonstrated a prototype of the search software to an audience at its annual meeting with financial analysts here. The technology is designed to quickly look through a hard drive, finding all the matches for a word from within documents, e-mails and even e-mail attachments. The version Mehdi presented also returned Web results on the right side of the page.

The demonstration marked the first time that Microsoft has showed off the technology, which Mehdi said would be part of a "service," although he did not offer further details.

Building a search system that looks through typically incompatible files has long been an key goal for Microsoft and a project favored by Chairman Bill Gates.

The PC search technology that Mehdi showed allowed a computer user to search within Microsoft's Outlook e-mail client as well as within Windows folders such as "My Documents."

In an interview, Mehdi said that the technology does not require an upgrade to the Windows operating system, but would require software to be downloaded onto a PC. The search is speedy, Mehdi said, because it builds a continual index of the files on the computer.

Microsoft has been expected to combine Web search with local PC search, but many had anticipated the move would come with Longhorn, the next version of Windows, which currently is due in 2006. Mehdi did not give specifics, but said the local hard-drive search service would come before that launch.

"It will definitely be out before Longhorn," Mehdi said. He added that Longhorn, which includes a new file system, will allow for more powerful searches.

Mehdi said that the company had made a lot of progress in the last few months on the local hard-drive search technology. Two weeks ago, Microsoft acquired Lookout Software, a small company with technology for searching e-mail.

"I'm duly humble about the challenge and incredibly optimistic about what we can get done," Mehdi said of Microsoft's prospects in search, noting that the company had built a full Web crawler in 11 months.

Mehdi also offered a sneak peek at the design of the MSN Music service that is scheduled for release later this year, but did not offer details about the service or say when it would launch.