Get Free Quote

Search Engines Compete for Your Desktop

Search Engines Compete for Your Desktop

by: Susan Esparza, January 2005

The final months of 2004 saw every major engine either releasing or announcing a desktop search. Google was first out of the gate, introducing a versatile desktop search beta that was integrated with their powerhouse web search. MSN and Ask Jeeves weren't far behind both releasing beta desktop searches while Yahoo! announced plans to release sometime in January. AOL also got in the game and announced they were teamed with Copernic to bring their own desktop search out soon. Most recently both Blinkx and Google have announced plans to release desktop searches for Macintosh.

This mad scramble begs the question why are the search engines even bothering? The answer is actually fairly obvious--customer loyalty. If you use Ask Jeeves' desktop search (my personal favorite thanks to the preview pane and tabbed results) then it follows that you might switch to using Ask Jeeves' web search simply through convenience. Users of MSN's desktop search will already be trained to search with that when MSN Search is released from beta. Everyone is hoping to steal some of Google's dominance and Google is hoping to gain even more converts.

Desktop search is very convenient and helpful, quickly becoming part of the using experience. The three released desktop searches are powerful tools, each with its own pros and cons.

All of the desktop searches start when Windows does and none have the ability to option out of that. You can turn them off once they start but there is no way to have them not load upon start up. Google and MSN run in the taskbar but Ask Jeeves pops up with a window. That is handy if you need something right off but how often does that happen? The preference setting on all three (called preferences by Ask Jeeves and Google but Options by MSN) is entirely useless in determining start up. Hopefully, this will be corrected in the final release.


  • Integrated with search engine
  • Uses Internet Explorer when launched from toolbar
  • Has a link at the top of the web results to relevant desktop results
  • Adds Desktop search link to Google home page once the Desktop Search is installed
  • Toggles easily between all available Google products, making it very easy to switch from desktop search to web search or news search
  • Will work in Internet Explorer or Firefox
  • Indexes when computer is idle
  • Indexes Outlook, Office and system folders
  • Searches recent browser history
  • Displays results in familiar web results format
  • Sorts results by date and relevance
  • Does not sort by file type but you can use operators to filter by type
  • Sends tracking data back to Google by default but can be opted out of
  • Shows how much has been indexed on the status screen
  • Does not index .pdfs
  • Does not search gmail


MSN released their desktop search as part of their Toolbar Suite beta. The Toolbar Suite comes bundled with the Desktop toolbar, Windows Explorer toolbar, Outlook toolbar and a revamp of the Internet Explorer toolbar.

  • Indexes at one speed and can be paused
  • Defaults to search bar imbedded in task bar but is easy to change
  • Indexes email and My Documents by default, has an option to index hard drives as well
  • Indexes .pdfs
  • Launches to internal window but switches to Internet Explorer when changing to web search
  • Sorts results by date, relevancy and file type
  • Linked from MSN Search Beta website when using Internet Explorer
  • Not compatible with non-IE browsers

Ask Jeeves:

  • Uses its own stand alone interface
  • Includes a tab for web search and will search with Ask Jeeves interface
  • Selecting Launch in Browser launches to IE, (no way to change preferences)
  • Indexes at two speeds but can't be paused or stopped
  • Has a preview pane which will play media files
  • Common tasks like insert attachment or file/open will pop up an extra AJ search bar-handy for not having to click through multiple folders trying to remember where you saved something
  • Tabs automatically sort by file types
  • Indexes Outlook, .pdfs, internet bookmarks and media files

All three applications are easy to use and look great. Hopefully, they will offer more options as time goes on. They've already set a high bar for Yahoo! and AOL to meet. None of the applications are showing ads yet but I think 'yet' is the key word there. Surely it is only a matter of time before someone attempts to monetize desktop search.