The Desktop Search


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Giants in the search engine market have been batting to capture the browser based internet search market for quite some time, including integration of web-search in IMs. But the latest arena that search vendors have eyed for the future, is Desktop Search. The phenomenon became popular when Google launched the beta version of its desktop search utility.

 Why is there such a frenzy over desktop search? Simple - it's the amount of information we have to deal with in our daily lives and our need to sift through it regularly. From emails to .MS Office files, saved pages off the net, visited sites, chats, favorite websites and what not - our data is dispersed as widely as possible in our PCs (apart from those few of us who keep everything organized). And it's not only a matter of distribution of data in different formats and locations (both offline and online), we also need to perform searches inside those files. Previously, if I wanted to dig through my folders to find my project plan of a historical project, I had to rely on the OS-based relatively slow search using the "containing text" clause. That's where desktop search comes in handy - providing speed and ease. Just open up your desktop search tool, key-in the project name and voila! Within a second, all my hard disk and emails are searched for documents having my searched keyword. Not only this, the results are displayed beautifully, categorized on the basis of file types. For example, if emails are found, the option of sorting emails according to date, time, subject, etc is also available. A preview pane removes the need to open any file unless it's what you need. Shortcuts to shared folders over intranet and folder names are also searched. All this and more, with more accuracy than you expect given the time it takes to search, is really going to change the way we search our PC. Google claims that users won't even have to organize their flies as they used to in the past because the searching power will be too great to waste time on naming files and creating folders and subfolders manually.

This, according to them, is similar to how the human brain functions: just think of what you have seen before and your brain tells you as much info as it can recall about that object or event. In essence, desktop search providers want users to forget the names of their files, the folders they are in, the programs used for their creation, their extensions and formats and just every other technical detail that's there with a file. It is also rumored that the next breakthrough Windows OS is going to have virtual folder architecture; folders over folders to give a logical hierarchy of files to the user according to file types and various other attributes.

At this point, you might be wondering what makes this instantaneous search possible. The answer is indexing (and  obviously, search algorithms). Every desktop search tool, just after installation, starts an intensive indexing operation. This is generally performed when the computer is free and other applications are net using the limited CPU resources. Some tools auto-start and (and turn off) indexing in- between the user's interaction with the computer, detecting low computer usage; while others can continuously carry out indexing.

Apart from these basic functions, different vendors boast of
different capabilities and different strengths. Let's take a brief look at some features of to see what the top desktop search tools are offering.

First up is Google. Its desktop search can cache pages viewed in Internet
Explorer for later display. Auto-preview is enabled and appears next to search results, which can be sorted by relevance or date. Search results are categorized under files, emails and web. The product is still in its beta version (as are most others) and promises to add more file types and enhance the search algorithm in near future.

Next in line is Ask Jeeves. The company acquired a desktop search startup, Tukaroo Inc, last June, and has now released its own desktop search based on Tukaroo's technology. The people at Ask Jeeves are mostly concerned about the ease of use, and so this tool has comparatively fewer options and requires little configuration. Ask Jeeves claims that extensive user testing has resulted in the designing of an extremely user-friendly GUI, and when you actually use it, chances are that you will agree. To keep the user informed and in control of indexing, there is a gradual fast indexing option that displays progress This is unlike other desktop searches were novices might get impatient
about the status (and state) of indexing operation that take place without user intervention or control. Search results are tabbed according to the type, with categories further sort-able based on criteria applicable to specific category.

Next up is CDS or Copernic Desktop Search. Copernic products have been around for quite some time now, but are not very popular. With the desktop search tool however, it looks like Copernic is going to make its presence strongly felt. CDS is available in four languages while other vendors are still thinking of increasing their language base. The point CDS  emphasizes is the ability to instantly add newly created or updated files and arrived emails to its searchable index - thanks to its patent- pending Instant Indexing technique (CDS claims to have the 'freshest search index in the industry'). Another feature is search as you type. You go on adding more keywords and the results are automatically tweaked. CDS looks like a promising competitor in the desktop search market.

Microsoft. has released the MSN Toolbar Suite with the desktop search option. The highlight feature stands out, as it allows users to quickly locate search terms. Although all of these are still relatively new tools, the future for desktop searching seems to be full of opportunities. Lets see which companies next enter the fray!
 

 

 
 
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