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Ask Jeeves Enters Desktop Search Game

CHICAGO -- Ask Jeeves entered the desktop search competition with a beta version of its own service that scours users' computers.

Ask Jeeves Desktop Search lets users find Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents, as well as Outlook e-mail messages; simple text files; and image, music and video files on their computers.

With Ask Jeeves' iteration, users can narrow searches by document types and sort results by a variety of parameters. They can define how much of the computer the tool should index, as well as the speed at which they want it indexed.

Search results are returned in a two-panel interface that displays previews. The tool also adds a search box to Windows dialog boxes, such as Insert Attachment or File/Open.

The company intends on its desktop search tool to complement its MyJeeves personal search service, which it released in September. Jim Lanzone, senior vice president of search properties at Ask Jeeves, said the desktop product is another step in the Emeryville, Calif.-based company's personalization strategy.

The release comes amid a flurry of other desktop search news. MSN announced its own desktop tool, and Yahoo promised to deliver one in 2005. Google kicked off the race with its release of a beta desktop search tool in October. Terra Lycos released a free browser toolbar that includes desktop search in March 2004.

The ability to find multiple file formats is a point of differentiation for the desktop search products.

Microsoft's desktop can find Outlook contacts or calendar files, Microsoft Office, Windows Media audio and MP3 files; users can add PDF search with an Adobe plug-in.

Yahoo claimed its tool, which is still under development, would find photos, music files and PDFs, as well as Office and e-mail files.

Google can find Microsoft Office files, Web sites that have been accessed via Internet Explorer and AOL Instant Messenger chats. It does not yet find PDF or media files, although Google has promised to enable PDF searches.

Google desktop search is the only free tool that works independently of Microsoft's IE browser. Google is considered an open source friendly technology company, and there's speculation that it may build its own browser using Mozilla technology.

"They're all going for different feature sets," said Chris Sherman, associate editor of Search Engine Watch, at the Search Engine Strategies trade show here. "They're watching to see which ones people use and like. We're seeing true innovation, which is nice."

Search Engine Watch, Search Engine Strategies and this Web site are owned by Jupitermedia Corp.