Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Yahoo has become the latest major Internet company to introduce consumer software for searching e-mail and other desktop files.
In December, the Internet portal announced it would soon begin testing desktop search technology, which it has licensed from Pasadena, Calif.-based X1 Technologies. On Tuesday, the company officially entered the market with a free download of the beta at Desktop.Yahoo.com.
Yahoo has put its stake in the desktop-search ground following rivals Microsoft, Google and Ask Jeeves, which all did so late last year. The market has become a hot field of innovation, promising to engender new consumer loyalty on the PC and pave a new road for delivering personalized advertising.
Analysts say the desktop is also viable turf for the competing search players to stand out with consumers, in what is now largely a level playing field of Web search.
"Desktop search is becoming a price of entry for the major players," said Chris Sherman, an editor at industry Web site SearchDay. "Everybody's doing it, so everyone has to do it. Otherwise they risk losing users."
Yahoo's new software is designed to work as a companion toolbar on Microsoft's Outlook and Outlook Express e-mail programs, or separately on the desktop. The application makes searchable roughly 200 file types—including music, photos and PDF (Portable Document Format) files.
Unlike rival applications, Yahoo's software lets people sort and refine query results within seconds by merely typing a letter or two into one of several linear search boxes, which include file size, name and date/time. Sherman said the sorting feature is stronger than what's available through MSN or Google. One downside, however, is that Yahoo has yet to incorporate Web search into the desktop search features, he said. (The beta will launch a browser to perform a Web search.)
But Yahoo promises advancement. "The beta lets us explore the abundance of opportunities to linking up users' personal data as it exists on Yahoo to their desktop search experience," said Bradley Horowitz, director of media and desktop search. "It will expand in short order."
Smaller companies, including Blinkx, are tackling this market too. Blinkx recently introduced a video search service for the desktop and made a Mac version of its PC search tool. Like Yahoo, EarthLink has partnered with X1 to introduce advanced e-mail-searching features.