Desktop Search Wars

I’m starting to rethink my attachment to Copernic Desktop Search. The app provides great search results, but there are certain things I like better about the way the Windows Desktop Search portion of the updated MSN Search Toolbar works. For instance, I’ve always liked the live as-you-type results list that appears above the MSN Taskbar search box. Copernic opens all results in an application window. In the most recent release of the MSN Search Toolbar, MSN smartly added a feature to turn off indexing when my laptop is switched to battery power. If I’m using my laptop, it’s almost always on battery power, so this means fewer disk write events which extends battery life. And it may be my imagination, but the MSN results seem slightly faster than Copernic in the latest version. If you use Mozilla Thunderbird or Eudora as your email client, Copernic still wins because MSN only searches mail in Microsoft mail apps. I’m a diehard Outlook guy, so I can live without the other mail options, at least until somebody makes a better app for managing my calendar, tasks, mail and contacts in one place.

Another interesting addition to the MSN Search Toolbar suite is tabbed browsing for Internet Explorer. When I first learned this was going to be part of the toolbar, I was admittedly underwhelmed. From all that I read online, the tabs were half-baked and missing many of the features I consider important for effective tabbed browsing. Installing the latest version of the MSN Toolbar changed my mind. Tabs show the favicon for each site making it easy to quickly identify individual tabs. Switching between tabs is possible by way of a keyboard shortcut. Pages can be set to load in the background on new tabs by default. There’s a limited feature for saving a group of tabs to open automatically, which needs improvement but is a start.

I realize Firefox and its older cousin Mozilla supported tabs ages ago. Maxthon, the alternative IE shell also supports tabs nicely as part of the native environment. Having the tabs included as a clever add-on to the MSN Toolbar is certainly welcomed, since you need to be using IE to get benefit from the toolbar. Hopefully the native support for tabbed browsing in IE 7 will look a little more polished than the toolbar implementation. In the meantime, I’m more interested in the search performance on my desktop and consider the tabbed browsing to be a worthy bonus.

MSN is late to the game in providing auto-form filling, lagging behind the Google Toolbar by many months. Here again, I’m more interested in desktop search results and continue to have serious reservations about Google’s cavalier attitude toward displaying my desktop results in a manner making them virtually indistinguishable from Web results. Google gets a nod for Blogger and Gmail users with MSN coming right back in offering a quick link to Hotmail and MSN Spaces. Overall I’m more interested in desktop search because IE toolbars all deliver equally dull experiences. At this point, if you’re an Outlook user, the MSN Search Toolbar is worth a serious look for handling desktop information juggling. If you use any other mail client, my vote remains overwhelmingly Copernic. Google is still the champ of my Web search needs but comes in third for searching my desktop.

In other MSN news, MSN Music is putting some serious effort into acquiring customers. If you purchase 1 song from the service, the next 5 tracks added to your shopping cart are free, effectively pricing 6 songs for $0.99. This is good until July 10 and you have to download all free tracks by September 30. You only get one crack at the discount, so there’s no chance of getting 60 songs for $9.99 unless you sign up for 10 individual accounts. These tracks are of course encumbered by Windows Media DRM, which is easily remedied by burning them to CD and re-ripping the tracks. Additionally, MSN Music announced plans to launch a subscription music service to compete with Yahoo, Napster and Real. Hopefully this means a full-fledged price war on subscription music fees.