Thursday, January 18, 2007

Windows Desktop Search

One of the guys at work the other day was showing me Vista's new search capability. Then he mentioned that most of this was available for XP with Windows Desktop Search (WDS). So I went to Microsoft and found it here. Even as big a Google fan that I am, I was always cautious of Google's Desktop Search so I had avoided it. I'm not sure why I "trust" Microsoft's search more than Google's but that's what I did that day.

Anyway, I downloaded it and began playing with it.

From the Windows Desktop Search home page...

Windows Desktop Search helps increase the productivity of information workers by enabling them to quickly and easily find what they are looking for.

  • Windows Desktop Search helps users quickly find and retrieve e-mail messages, documents, and many other file types located on their PC and corporate network.
  • Windows Desktop Search provides a familiar, integrated, and convenient search experience for Windows users.
  • Search index does not create privacy issues or device performance concerns.
  • Windows Desktop Search integrates with other Microsoft Search technologies.
What really caught my eye was...
  • Quickly search e-mail (Outlook and Outlook Express) to find the message you are looking for. With the optional Lotus Notes add-in find your Lotus Notes e-mail messages.
That add-in is here. Now, that's cool. Google's doesn't do that.

If that's not enough, here's the next bullet...
  • Supports search for a wide range of document formats (even when included as attachments)...
That's right. It indexes attachments to e-mails!

There's a separate setup for the Notes add-in. You have to have a local replica of your mail database. Then in the setup you browse to it and select it. It will take a while before you start getting search hits from Notes, maybe even the next day. This is due to WDS initially populating its index.

I have installed WDS twice as the upgrade required an uninstall and reinstall including the Notes add-in. Both times I've observed that the Notes add-in "finds" all the .nsf files and indexes all of them. A day or so after you install the Notes add-in, go back to the Notes add-in's setup and uncheck all the .nsf files except your mail replica.

WDS seems pretty aggressive at continually reindexing even when not much has changed. The good news is that it is also sensitive to your use of the system so it will back off indexing when you start using the system.

There's a toolbar option that puts the search field down next to your system tray. This is really neat as it begins searching as you type. But I'm protective of space in my taskbar so I chose to disable this. With this disabled, you invoke WDS by clicking on an icon in the system tray.

You can subset the search by document type, not just by the file suffix but by the logical type, e.g. presentation, document, etc. For most file types, you get a preview window.

WDS is so comprehensive that it quickly changes the way that you organize files. It really no longer matters where you put a file. Just put it pretty much anywhere and it'll be found instantly when you look for it.

1 comment:

Brian Burns said...

I never thought desktop search was a big deal until Apple added Spotlight into OS X, which is their desktop search tool. Even after they did, I thought I would never use it.

I was way wrong. I find I use it regularly. Most third party apps have added spotlight plugins so if I search within spotlight, it not only searches the OS and the metadata attached, but within my emails, IM archives, DVD and Book Libraries, etc, Thunderbird or Apple E-Mail messages, iLife libraries, etc.

In fact, almost all of my archived reference documents have tags in the metadata now, and I rarely open and navigate to a folder. I just search for the metadata I am interested in. Nice.

As powerful as tags/keywords/whatever are, I would like to see a consistent method of handling them across filesystems. That is probably too much to ask though,