Yahoo to take on Microsoft in desktop search

Yahoo Inc. is hoping to leapfrog Microsoft Corp. by releasing a tool that allows users to quickly and easily search for information on their PCs as well as in their personal files stored at Yahoo’s online services, a source familiar with the plan said yesterday.

Yahoo is developing a similar tool but plans to take its capabilities a step further, according to a person familiar with the plan. In addition to letting users search their local mail and hard drive, Yahoo’s tool will extend the search to include personal files stored at its online services, such as e-mail, calendar and picture hosting, the source said.

News source: ComputerWorld Microsoft previewed an upcoming desktop search application last week at an event for financial analysts at its Redmond, Wash., headquarters (see story). The tool builds an index of content on a user’s computer and makes it searchable. Relevant links from the Internet, along with advertisements, are displayed in a pane on the right side of the screen.

A key benefit of such tools is that users should be able to search through files on their desktops much faster and more thoroughly than they can with the search feature currently in Windows. “The search available in most operating systems is impoverished,” said Matthew Berk, an independent analyst in New York.

Microsoft didn’t provide a release date for its desktop search application last week, but MSN product manager Justin Osmer said yesterday that the tool would be out in the first half of next year. A new version of its MSN Web search engine is due out at about the same time, he said.

Yahoo officials declined to comment on any plans for a desktop search tool, but Jeff Weiner, Yahoo’s senior vice president for search and marketplace, said users should “stay tuned.”

Microsoft and Yahoo aren’t the only companies focused on desktop search tools. Lycos Inc. released its HotBot Desktop product earlier this year, and Ask Jeeves Inc. acquired a desktop search technology in June from Tukaroo Inc. Google is also rumored to be working on a product.

In addition, a host of third parties provide tools. One of those, Lookout Software LLC, was recently acquired by Microsoft.

The interest in desktop search isn’t surprising, said Berk. “Operators of Web search want to get on the desktop because it gives them more opportunity to display ads,” he said. “The more you get consumers to search through your technology or service, the greater your opportunity to drive revenue.”

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