Desktop Search Summary

With Yahoo now in the game, all the major players have now officially entered the desktop search market! I should writeup at least a short and completely unbiased summary.

MSN Desktop Search BETA. Launched Dec 13, 2004.
The MSN product has been pretty well received. As you’d expect from Microsoft, it integrates with the Desktop, Outlook, Explorer, and Internet Explorer. The user gets a common interface from all entry points, and the product can search across email, files, and a rich set of content types.

Yahoo Desktop Search BETA. Launched Jan 10, 2005.
The Yahoo product was built by X1. (I love their company motto – “Breaking the found barrier”)They are one of the oldest desktop search products that have been on the market. As expected, the product looks just like X1, and has received high marks over the last year for its depth of features. Because it is the X1 product, I expected it to be pretty stable. I was surprised that my installation of X1 immediately crashed while indexing – twice! But, after it finished, it seemed to work okay. The great thing about X1 is the great features – it indexes very quickly, has a wonderful “search while you type” feature, and a great preview pane. It indexes more types of files than any of the other desktop search products. The only other complaint I can see with it is still its garrish user-interface. X1 really wants to be its own application; you need to leave it up and running all the time if you want to use it effectively; and it takes up a lot of space on your screen and task tray. For some users, this works well, however I personally prefer the search tools that are more concealed into the locations where you use them, so that you don’t have to see them when they aren’t in use.

What is unknown about Yahoo is whether or not they had plans to build their own desktop product, and that X1 is a bridge, or whether this is their real entry into the market. Either way, starting with X1 was probably a great step for Yahoo, as X1 is one of the top products available today.

Google Desktop Search BETA. Launched Oct 14, 2004.
I’ve reviewed the Google product before. And much has been written about it. Overall, people seem to agree that its a good little engine, and it works for some people. However, the Web-Centric approach which Google took is not really what most users want. The product has a number of security issues, limits the user to viewing 10 search results in a web browser, and lacks any sort of email search capabilities. For the world’s search leader, this was quite a surprise to many.

Ask Jeeves BETA. Launched Dec 15, 2004.
Poor little ask jeeves. The product works, and its fast, and provides the basics of desktop search. But, considering that they bought Tuckaroo to help build this engine early in 2004, Ask just arrived too late with too little to be interesting. For a smaller player like Ask Jeeves, they really needed to get this out 6 months earlier in order for it to have market impact.

Lookout Released 1.0 May 25, 2004.
Lookout is the oldest of the products I’m listing here. Its an email search tool, designed and optimized for searching Microsoft Outlook email only. For desktop search, its just not up to par with the file indexing of the big engines. But for email search, it still provides the most in-depth search capabilities.

One quick note: A lot of the reviews say things like “Microsoft and Yahoo are just copying Google, who released desktop search last year.” While it may seem like that on the surface, its a pretty naive statement overall. In the case of MSN, for instance, we know from Microsoft that the product was built from the ground up. Since it was released only a month or so after the Google product, we know that there was very little copying done. Anyone in the software business can tell you that in order to ship a product within a month or two of a competitor, not only did you have to be working on it before the competitor launched, but you basically had to be code complete and in final test. Further, the approach taken by Microsoft is radically different than the web-centric approach used by Google. To say its a copy, or a knee jerk reaction is pretty silly. In the case of Yahoo, the same logic also applies. They were probably at least talking to X1 before the Google product launched, although it may be a close call. Its pretty fast to close a licensing deal and build a re-branded version of the product in just two months. Who knows. Maybe it was a copy of Google. But the innovation in the product existed WAY before Google even existed.

Anyway, kudos to all the players now in this space. When a user gets that first, fast search (regardless of which Desktop Search product they use), there is a common reaction of amazement and understanding – how much better our lives are when we can find stuff.

Now, where is the “find my car keys” search each morning?