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Inside Secrets of MSN Desktop Search

by Wei-Meng Lee
12/21/2004

Hot on the heels of the release of the Google Desktop, Microsoft has upped the competition by launching MSN Desktop Search. Part of the MSN Toolbar Suite, MSN Desktop Search lets you find documents on your desktop in a split second. Though the MSN Desktop Search is currently in beta form, the result is impressive and clearly shows Microsoft's determination to beat Google.

In this article, I will take you on a tour of some of the features in the MSN Desktop Search and show you how you can use it to find documents on your desktop.

Obtaining and Installing MSN Desktop Search

To use the MSN Desktop Search, you need to download the MSN Toolbar Suite. Once it is downloaded and installed, you can use it from Windows Explorer, Internet Explorer, Microsoft Office (Outlook), and the Taskbar (see Figure 1).

Figure 1
Figure 1. MSN Toolbar in Windows Explorer, Internet Explorer, Microsoft Office (Outlook), and the Taskbar

You have the options to search the Web using MSN Search, or your desktop using MSN Desktop Search (see Figure 2).

Figure 2
Figure 2. Searching on the Web and on the desktop

By default, MSN Desktop Search indexes your Outlook or Outlook Express email files and all files saved in the My Documents folder (see Figure 3). However, you can also index the entire hard disk or just a specific location.

Note that in order for email indexing to work, you need to have Outlook or Outlook Express running.

You can also index email attachments. This is useful when you want to search for specific documents found in attachments.

Figure 3
Figure 3. Configuring indexing for MSN Desktop Search

You can use MSN Desktop Search to search your computer for the following:

  • documents and files (including text files, Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, and Web pages)
  • photos and videos
  • music
  • Outlook and Outlook Express items such as email messages, contacts, and appointments

You can also use MSN Desktop Search to look for messages in the newsgroups if you subscribe to them using Outlook Express.

MSN Desktop Search works by building an index of all the files on your computer (or specific locations based on your configuration). When the MSN Toolbar is installed, you should find an MSN Indexing icon in the Taskbar's notification area, as shown in Figure 4. To see a list of options for indexing, right-click on the Indexing icon.

Figure 4
Figure 4. The Indexing icon in the Tray

Indexing is performed in the background when the CPU is lightly loaded. When the computer is busy running applications, indexing will automatically pause to give way to other, higher-priority jobs (see Figure 5). For best search results, leave your computer on for a few hours after installation to perform a complete indexing.

Figure 5
Figure 5. Indexing in action

Searching for Files

With my indexing almost completed, I set out to test the capabilities of MSN Desktop Search. I entered the search phrase computing review, and in a split second a list of items matching the search string emerged (see Figure 6).

Figure 6
Figure 6. Search for documents on your computer

By default, MSN Desktop Search shows the results in a long list. However, you can choose to filter the result based on:

  • documents
  • email
  • music
  • pictures and videos
  • and more

One particularly useful feature is that of showing email conversations. For example, I found an email of interest and then right-clicked on it and selected Show Conversation (see Figure 7).

Figure 7
Figure 7. Showing conversations for emails

A list of related email exchanges will then be shown (see Figure 8). This feature is very useful for catching up on long email exchanges.

Figure 8
Figure 8. List of related email exchanges

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