Desktop search avalanche set to hit

Microsoft, Yahoo and Ask Jeeves plan to jump into the desktop search market

Microsoft Corp., Yahoo Inc. and Ask Jeeves Inc. are all set to jump into the desktop search market, two months after Internet search leader Google Inc. offered a test version of a tool that lets users search for information stored on their desktop computers.

Yahoo plans to debut a beta version of its new Yahoo Desktop Search tool in the coming weeks, the company said late yesterday. Meanwhile, Ask Jeeves is set to unveil its test offering next week, with Microsoft releasing its desktop search beta then as well, according to sources familiar with the company's plans.

One of the key benefits of desktop search 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.

Yahoo's free Yahoo Desktop Search product will initially have a special focus on e-mail and e-mail attachments, as well as specific file types such as photos and music, according to Yahoo. The product will later be expanded so that users can search a broad range of Yahoo's online services.

Unlike Google, Yahoo has enlisted the services of a third party for its desktop search product. The tool is based on technology from X1 Technologies Inc., which has been selling a tool for business users for several years. In March, Pasadena, Calif.-based X1 launched Version 3.0 of its product, which it sells for $74.95 per user.

"We evaluated all of our options and believe that X1's application would provide our users with the best desktop search solution," a Yahoo spokeswoman said. Terms of the deal between Yahoo and X1 weren't disclosed.

The major Internet search players are jumping into the desktop search market to fill a void left by Microsoft, said X1 President Josh Jacobs. "The tools that are provided in the core operating system are not sufficient to find and to manage all the information on our desktops," he said.

Emeryville, Calif.-based Ask Jeeves plans to launch a beta version of its desktop search tool on Wednesday, said Jim Lanzone, the company's senior vice president of search properties. The tool will be positioned as a key component of the MyJeeves personal search service, he said.

Currently, MyJeeves lets users store Web queries and results, but its scope will grow to include documents stored on users' PCs through the integration of the desktop search tool, Lanzone said. "In the future, we imagine MyJeeves as a place for all your personal files: Web pages, photos, music files and so on. That way, MyJeeves becomes a platform for sharing that information with people in your work, family or hobby network," he said. "That's where this is all headed."

The beta version of the Ask Jeeves desktop tool will have some initial integration with MyJeeves, but that integration will grow deeper in the future, Lanzone said. Ask Jeeves will provide more details next week and expects to launch a final version of the desktop tool sometime next year. The company views the race among desktop search providers "as a marathon and not a sprint," Lanzone said.

Microsoft first demonstrated its desktop search tool in July and has said that it plans to release a beta version by year's end. The company acquired Lookout Software LLC, which made a desktop search tool, earlier this year.

Ask Jeeves also acquired desktop search technology this year, when it bought Tukaroo Inc. in June. Lycos Inc. released its own HotBot Desktop tool earlier this year.

The interest in desktop search isn't surprising, industry analysts have said. Operators of Web searches want to get on the desktop because it gives them more real estate on users' computers and thus more opportunities to display ads, according to Matthew Berk, an independent analyst based in New York.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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