Searching My Desktop
This past week I got a chance to participate in Search Champs V4, a small gathering of academic researchers, search engine marketers and technologists hosted by MSN. The idea behind the gathering is to get feedback on existing and future MSN product offerings in hopes of making them better. One side benefit for me in attending is getting to meet people I read regularly, like Dori Smith, and Mike Arrington and new people like the guy behind We Break Stuff and Donavon West who makes gadgets for Windows Live.
Something I hadn't anticipated was the possibility of switching loyalties in desktop search. For a long time, Copernic remained the mainstay for handling all my desktop search duties outperforming both Google Desktop and Microsoft in a number of key areas. After seeing a few features in the Enterprise version of Windows Desktop Search, I'm switching my desktop search loyalties.
I always liked the live as-you-type results in Windows Desktop Search, but a few other quirks, including the bundling of the MSN Toolbar, turned me off. As I indicated recently, the enterprise version of MSN Search Toolbar is now a solid solution. I still won't touch the consumer version.
I'm an Outlook user by choice. It's the only app that integrates all my email, calendar, contacts and task data in a way that makes sense to me. Searching my email is an unpleasant experience. Lookout helped make searching email better, but the combined MSN Search Toolbar and Windows Desktop Search for enterprise rock at searching Outlook. Search results are relevant, conversational search actually works and the window where the results display sits right inside Outlook (a feature Outlook won't have natively until Office 12 ships).
A trick I picked up from Brandon Paddock, one of the Windows Desktop Search developers, is to prioritize indexing, which updates the index as changes happen instead of waiting for idle cycles. All the search tools, including Google and Copernic recommend waiting for idle cycles to update your search index, but I'm convinced my performance is better after running the indexing service immediately after install and just keeping the index up-to-date. At the same time, I would recommend against prioritized indexing if your computer has less than 512MB of RAM or a processor under 3.0GHz.
Just to be clear, I'm not an MSN Search fanboy. Google remains my primary Web search engine, because the results are simply better. Google has a greater wealth of documentation on various search tricks, mostly through third parties, not to mention people are making it easy to use Google tools inside my Media Center.