SolutionBase: Increase your search power with the MSN Search Toolbar

The ability to find data quickly is increasingly becoming important. You need to be able to find information on both your local machine, your network, and on the Internet. Here's how to use the Microsoft's newest Internet Explorer add-on to help.

The biggest buzz word on the Internet now is Search. Google rules the search engine field for Web sites. Apple gets tons of press about the Spotlight search capabilities in the new Tiger version of Mac OS X. Windows Vista is also going to include a bunch of new search features. But what do you do if you don't want to wait?

Fortunately, Microsoft released a new version of the MSN Toolbar for Internet Explorer that can help. It adds search capabilities to Internet Explorer as well as a desktop search feature that, while not as spiffy as the Spotlight or what's coming in Vista, can help you find things on your workstation quickly. The Toolbar also adds features to Internet Explorer currently found in other browsers like FireFox. Here's how it works.

What does it do and how do I get it?

The MSN Search Toolbar integrates itself into Internet Explorer much like toolbars from Yahoo! and Google. Appearing beneath the address bar in IE after you install it, it adds features to Windows and IE including:

  • Full workstation search
  • Fast Web search links to MSN Search
  • Tabbed browsing
  • Automatic form filling
  • Highlight search results
  • Pop-up blocking for older versions of IE
  • You can get similar features doing other things by switching browsers to like FireFox or adding third party utilities, but with the MSN Search Toolbar, you don't need them.

    The MSN Search Toolbar requires Windows 2000, Windows XP, or Windows Server 2003. If you're still using Windows 9x or Windows NT, you're out of luck. Also, you must be running Internet Explorer 5.01 or later as well. The version of IE that comes with Windows XP SP2 includes its own Pop-up blocker, but you can either disable that one, or the one that comes with the MSN Search Toolbar to prevent conflicts. You don't have to subscribe to MSN to use the toolbar.

    You can get the toolbar from Microsoft's MSN Search Toolbar Web site. Click on the green Download Now- Free tab. When the File Download screen appears, click Run. This will install the toolbar for you automatically. If you want to create an MSI file to push the toolbar out to other workstations on your network, you should click Save and save the EXE file. Creating and deploying the toolbar this way is beyond the scope of this article.

    The Toolbar is about 6Mb in size, so unless you're on dialup, it won't take too long to download and install. Depending on the version of IE you're running, you may see an Internet Explorer Security Warning appear before the toolbar installs. Click Run to install the toolbar.

    From there you will be taken through a Wizard to help install the toolbar. There are no major gotchas in the wizard. You will be asked to close both your IE Explorer and Outlook programs if they are open so that the wizard can install the toolbar.

    After the programs close and the Installation Wizard copies files to your hard drive, you will be taken through the customizing wizard. You can quickly get through the configuration wizard by accepting the default settings. If you choose next, you'll see the Select MSN Search Toolbars screen as shown in Figure A.

    Figure A

    Select the toolbars you want to see.

    When you make your selections and click Next, you'll be asked to participate in the Customer Experience program. Microsoft claims to send anonymous information to itself to make sure the toolbar is working properly. You can accept or decline.

    The same screen also has in small print some search default options. You can make MSN Search your default search engine as well as set MSN to your home page. Don't miss these options if you don't want them changed.

    You'll then see the Windows Desktop Search Indexing Options screen shown in Figure B. You can have Windows Desktop your entire hard drive, just your My Documents folder, email, or any combination thereof.

    Figure B

    Configure Windows Desktop Search here.

    Windows Desktop Search is supposed to perform its indexing tasks in the background when your computer isn't doing anything else. Even so, I've noticed a performance impact using it. Be aware that on slower machines, it may make your computer run slower, so be careful about over-indexing the drive or using the feature in general.

    When the Customization Wizard is done, click Finish. You can also view a list of add-ons for the toolbar that will let you do such things as searching inside of PDFs and other file types.

    Using the toolbar

    Once you've installed the toolbar, restart Internet Explorer. You'll see the toolbar appear under the address bar in IE as shown in Figure C. If it doesn't appear, click View | Toolbars | MSN Search Toolbar.

    Figure C

    The MSN Search Toolbar adds features to Internet Explorer.

    To use the search, simply type a search term in the drop down list box next to MSN and press [Enter] or click Search Web. Your results will appear just as if you entered the query at MSN Search. If you click the highlighter icon, your search terms will appear in color in the results page. Multiple search terms will appear in different colors.

    You can take advantage of the tabbed browsing feature by pressing [Ctrl][T] or clicking the blue + on the toolbar. A new tab will appear in your browser you can search or visit other Web sites from. Unlike Firefox, you can't open a folder from your Favorites list in tabs all at once. You can however create open a group of web sites as tabs and then set them using My Tabs.

    Using the Windows Desktop Search

    In addition to the toolbar, you'll notice a small spyglass in the System Tray of your workstation. That's where you'll access Windows Desktop Search. Double click it to make the search window appear as shown in Figure D.

    Figure D

    You can also search items on your workstation.

    Enter a search term in the Search Desktop field and press [Enter]. Results will appear in the window below as shown in Figure E.

    Figure E

    Results appear below the search term.

    The Desktop Search feature will only search those areas you specified when you first configured it. Therefore, you might know a file exists on your hard drive, but might become confused if it doesn't appear in your results. In that case you need to change how Desktop Search searches. To do so, right click the spyglass in the System Tray and select Desktop Search Options. When the Windows Desktop Search Indexing Options appears, change your selection.

    Switching your default search engine to Google

    By default, the MSN Search Toolbar uses MSN Search as its search engine. If you prefer to use a different engine like Google, you can do so with a few extra steps. With IE up, click the MSN Butterfly and then select MSN Search Toolbar Options. In the left pane, click General.

    In the Web Search Service box, click Other Search Service. Then, in the field next to the radio button type$w

    and click OK. Make sure you include the /search?q=$w string. If you only include Google's Web address, the search bar will take you to Google's site, but it won't return any search results.

    Adding search to your desktop

    You can also add search directly to your desktop by adding the Deskbar. To do so, right click the Taskbar at the bottom of your screen and click Toolbars | MSN Search Deskbar. A Search Desktop field will appear in your taskbar as shown in Figure F.

    Figure F

    You can also add search to your desktop.

    Enter a search term in the Search Desktop field and press [Enter]. As you type the term, a window will appear the taskbar showing the results, as shown in Figure G. Select the result or keep entering terms to narrow the results.

    Figure G

    Results will appear as you type the search term.

    Search and ye shall find

    In a society of convenience, it is no surprise that companies are capitalizing on it with convenience based products, and MSN Search Toolbar with Windows Desktop Search more than fits that mold. The MSN Search Toolbar consolidates features found in other products and puts them right into Internet Explorer and IE itself. Although it's not perfect, it's a good place to start you on your searching quest.