Yahoo Latest in Desktop Search Play

Yahoo Desktop Search Beta went live late Monday evening, jostling for position in a suddenly crowded space.

Yahoo followed competitors Google , MSN, Ask Jeeves and HotBot in releasing free consumer software that lets users do keyword searches among multiple file types on their hard drives. Blinkx, an independent software provider, and Copernic, recently acquired by ad-supported search service, also offer free downloadable tools.

Yahoo claims to search over 200 different file types, delivering predictive search results as the user types in the query box, which appears in the Outlook interface as well as in its own window. Searchers can click buttons to limit the search to specific types of files, including Outlook attachments.

A preview pane in the search interface lets users look at the contents of the file without opening it; search terms are highlighted in the preview. All files can be launched from within the search interface; audio and video content can be played without launching a media player.

“We have a holistic view of search that includes completing a task,” said Yahoo director of search and media Bradley Horowitz. “Generally, search has a specific intention: You’re looking for a file to print, an email to forward, a photo to share. Our great differentiator is the ability to visualize and manipulate that search result set, beyond just presenting it to the user.”

Yahoo Desktop Search uses technology from X1, which sells a standalone desktop search product and also powers Snap, a Web-based search service. The two products will fork, Horowitz said, as Yahoo builds on top of the technology and X1 focuses on the enterprise market.

Yahoo Desktop Search Beta includes a link saying, “Try enterprise desktop search.” The link leads to X1’s sales site. “It’s a means for people that are interested in the enterprise solution to have access to it,” Horowitz said. But he would not say whether Yahoo receives a share of revenue from referrals to X1, nor would he discuss the two companies’ business relationship.

While there is no way for Yahoo to generate revenue from the desktop product, Horowitz said, “What’s good for Yahoo users is generally good for Yahoo in the long run.”

Yahoo will continue to add functionality to the desktop search tool, with the aim of eventually enabling it to search users’ personal data stored on Yahoo’s servers, such as Web mail. “It’s a natural integration to help users manage their data irrespective of if it lives on Yahoo or on their hard drives,” he said. “We think of this as the platform from which you’ll be able to search your data on the ‘Yahoo cloud.'”

Plans also include developing application protocol interfaces that would let third parties build services on top of Yahoo Desktop Search, in the way that Amazon , eBay and Google do. Feedback from beta users will help Yahoo prioritize which properties it integrates with desktop search.

Yahoo acknowledged that the beta product has one data security issue. It will index and display as search results e-mail that’s been archived into a password-protected file will be indexed and displayed in the preview pane. The company promised to fix the bug in a subsequent release.

Google Desktop Search came under fire for making it too easy for people besides the computer’s main user to find potentially sensitive information.

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