MSN Desktop Search


If you haven’t heard, MSN released a beta of their new desktop search tool yesterday. Marc Orchant and Scott Hanselman do a great job giving an overview of what is better called a product suite than simply a desktop search app. And Lora gives her first impressions of MSN desktop search on her Tablet. Scoble has a bunch of links too.

Marc is the Mikey of the software world–he tries everything. And his breadth of experience leads him to place the MSN Desktop search tool somewhere in the middle of the pack.

I come at this a little differently. I’ve installed the Google desktop search tool and now the MSN desktop search beta. (I was lucky enough to get a chance to use the MSN beta over the last couple weeks.)

In a tug of war between these two competing products–I give the edge to MSN’s desktop search. MSN’s offering is more complete: it indexes more file types, it was installable on all my machines whereas the Google desktop would not, the interaction was better (it integrates with Windows Explorer and has a terrific incremental search pop-up list), and all around MSN’s search tool felt like a real product whereas Google’s seemed like a summer project.

I’ve been using the MSN desktop search quite a bit. I rarely used the Google search tool after the first day. Why? I have multiple people using a couple of the machines and Google doesn’t discern between them–it lumps searches across everyone together. The MSN search tool doesn’t make this mistake. Further, the Google indexer only indexes a portion of the drive contents. I needed more.

That being said, I uninstalled the MSN desktop search on my two development Tablets for right now. Why? The indexing. The price for admission to the world of fast searching is slow indexing. Well, it’s not exactly that it’s slow, it’s that in order to keep the index current it has to run again and again. The indexing is optimized to only index new files and emails (as well as be kind while on battery), but it’s quite noticeable on my Toshiba M200, for instance. After a couple weeks of joy using the MSN desktop search I realized I was beginning to get annoyed at my M200–which I use the most of all my machines. It would wake up four or fives seconds more slowly. The disk would spin up at odd times–particularly when it thought I wasn’t doing something–although even when I was busy. I began to realize it was the indexing.

I tried monitoring the indexing to see what’s going on, but not much is exposed in the desksearch UI. I usually would select the snooze option to put it to sleep. This helped when I was working, but it didn’t help the start up time. So I finally decided to uninstall it on the Tablets. It’s still on my desktop machine and I love it. I bet it’s a matter of some registry tweaks to fix this, but my developer needs right now outway my desktop searching desires.

Here are a couple other things I noticed while using the MSN desktop search:

By default the indexer searches only the My Documents folders and email. But I realized I wanted to use the desktop search to find files anywhere on the drive. So I changed one of the options and reindexed. On my development machine this made a big difference in terms of utility. If I wanted to get to a file four levels deep in the folder hierarchy I would go to the deskbar search, enter the first few characters of the filename (often it would pop up in the list courtesy of incremental searching) and then I’d right click on the name to open the containing folder at that spot.

I don’t often search through emails, but doing so now is very, very easy using the deskbar/Windows Explorer combo and the updated “Lookout” that’s also part of the MSN desk search suite.

As a developer, I live in Googleland. I can Google for almost any Windows function name and it’s very likely that an MSDN entry will be the topmost hit or there will be some CodeProject examples listed near the top of the search results. Often it’s exactly what I’m looking for. This isn’t the case yet for MSN’s web search results. So one of the first things I did was disable the MSN web search bar in IE. I use the Google bar instead. This didn’t remove the MSN Toolbar from Windows Explorer though–where the search results are displayed. Turns out there’s an added menu option in Explorer to turn off the MSN Toolbar–just go to View | Toolbars | MSN. I can’t remember if the toolbar was optionally installed. Seems like it was.


  1. Oh please, why all this attention to the Google and MSN desktop search betas???

    The ideal program for desktop searches is already at version 1.2 and you can download it at!

    It works waaayy better then the other ones that depend on the internet explorer browser. Just give Copernic a try it is free 🙂

  2. Loren: Mikey (er, Marc) here. Johan’s comment notwitstanding, I completely agree with you that the MSN Suite is far superior to the Google offering. I’m particularly fond of the Deskbar with all of the syntax tricks you can play with it. I’m still missing a file content preview though and this is the area where Copernic and x1 still have a solid advantage.

    All things considered, I think MSN is off to an excellent with this first beta release and have a platform they can build on nicely.