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How-To Find The Right Search Engine for your Desktop

Desktop search engines have suddenly proliferated as users try to organize their local and remote files. We review four of the latest.

The year 2004 seems to be the year of the desktop search engine. While desktop search programs date back at least as far as the late 1980s (when Lotus introduced Magellan), the category seems to have gone all but unnoticed until recently. Suddenly it's attracting a lot of attention.

In just the last few months, the previously tiny field of competitors has suddenly become crowded with at least four contenders, and is awaiting the arrival of several giants in the computer industry. Blinkx, Copernica, Google, and X1 are in the current crop of rivals. Waiting in the wings are companies like AOL, Microsoft, and Yahoo, along with smaller ones like Scientific Software.

Desktop search engines typically index the hard drive (usually in the background), searching through word processing documents, e-mail messages, spreadsheets, PDFs, and other types of files, and making the information easily retrievable. Users can search words or phrases, and use Boolean operators. Many of the desktop search programs also include Web search capabilities, giving users the option of searching for files on either their own hard drives or the Internet at large. Some of the programs also let users re-visit Web pages they have accessed in the past, with the desktop search engines in effect serving as their Internet memory.

Desktop search tools provide powerful, yet sometimes jarring, effects. Users can unexpectedly find themselves and their co-workers staring at some long-forgotten, embarrassing piece of e-mail when they do a search for an almost totally unrelated item. Privacy and security concerns are sure to abound as many of these tools add Web functionality, leaving them prone to access from the outside.

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