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Windows XP Hacks
By Preston Gralla
February 2005
More Info

HACK
#46
Out-Google Google with MSN Desktop Search
Think the Google Desktop is nifty? MSN Desktop Search leaves it in the dust and lets you fine-tune your PC searches to an amazing degree
[Discuss (0) | Link to this hack]

[Hack #45] shows all the ways you can use Google's great desktop search tool to search through your computer in the same way Google lets you search through the Web.

Surprise! Microsoft has beat Google at its own game. MSN Desktop Search does a far better job of finding email and files on your computer because it hooks directly into Windows, Outlook, Outlook Express, and Microsoft Office and lets you search in ways you can't with the Google Desktop. And it does more than that as well; once you find files or email, you can move them, delete them, copy them, respond to them—pretty much anything Windows lets you do. Google Desktop merely lets you view them.

TIP

At the time of this writing, you can download MSN Desktop Search at http://beta.toolbar.msn.com, but most likely it will be at a different location soon. Check http://www.microsoft.com for details.

In fact, this great search tool is one of the best utilities of any kind you can find, and it's free.

TIP

Microsoft didn't build MSN Desktop Search from scratch. The heart of the search tool is a program called Lookout created by a company that Microsoft bought. Microsoft changed and tweaked Lookout to build MSN Desktop Search.

At first blush, the Google Desktop and MSN Desktop Search have some basic similarities. MSN Desktop Search, like the Google Desktop, sweeps through your PC, indexing all your email, your files and folders, and your Outlook appointments and tasks. When you do a search, it searches through that index rather than through your PC, so search results are returned lightning-quick.

It performs full-text indexes of:

  • Text files, Microsoft Word documents, Excel workbooks, PowerPoint presentations, OneNote documents—in fact, all Microsoft Office documents—living on your hard drive

  • Email handled through Outlook or Outlook Express

  • All Outlook data, including contacts, your calendar, your tasks—pretty much the whole Outlook shebang

  • Keywords in the titles of music, image, and video files

  • Web pages on your computer, although not web pages that you've browsed to

Unlike the Google Desktop, it has a full-blown interface rather than a simple web page, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. MSN Desktop Search, a full-blown utility with its own interface

We'll take a closer look at the interface later in this hack, but let's reign ourselves in for now and take a look at installation.

Installing MSN Desktop Search

MSN Desktop Search is a free download that runs on Windows XP only. Installation is straightforward. Download it (see the note at the beginning of this hack) and run the installer. It will install itself in several places, including as a small input box on the taskbar and as a toolbar in Outlook.

TIP

To make it visible in Outlook if it's not already visible, choose View → Toolbars → MSN Toolbar.

When it's on the taskbar, it appears as an input box with a butterfly to the left, as shown in Figure 2. In addition to that, in the Notification area (the far-right portion of the taskbar) you'll see a small magnifying glass with a butterfly on it. That's the indexer portion of the utility.

Figure 2. The MSN Desktop Search input box on the Windows taskbar

If it doesn't pop open and ask you to set your preferences, set your preferences right away. The most important one concerns what it should index. For some odd reason, by default, it indexes your email and your My Documents folder only. That means it won't be able to find anything on the rest of your hard disk, so rectify that oversight right away. On the taskbar, click the down arrow next to the small butterfly symbol, choose Options → Deskbar Options, and from the screen that appears click Desktop Search to bring up the screen shown in Figure 3. Select "Email and all hard disks" and check the box next to "Index email attachments" so that it indexes all the attachments in your email. Then click OK.

Figure 3. Telling MSN Desktop Search to index your entire hard disk, not just your email and My Documents folder

Now, click the magnifying glass with the butterfly on it in the Notification area, and choose Index Now. It will start indexing. It could take from an hour to the better part of a day to complete its index, depending on how many files you have and how fast your processor is.

TIP

Defragment your hard disk before installing MSN Desktop Search and having it index your hard disk. If you defragment first, indexing will go much more quickly because files will be contiguous to one another when indexing occurs, which will speed up the indexing process.

Searching Your PC

When you want to search through your PC, click inside the search box shown in Figure 4 and type in your search term. (To instantly put your cursor in the search box, press Ctrl-Alt-M.) MSN Desktop Search literally starts searching with each keystroke and can display results as you type. As you type, the results pop up in a box, as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4. Results as you type, neatly sorted by category

This instant searching and sorting is great, but even more useful is what you can do once you find results. Right-click any result and you'll get a menu that lets you take action on the file or message, depending on the file type or whether it's an email. For example, as shown in Figure 5, if you right-click an email, you can open the message in Outlook, print it, reply to it, forward it, copy it, delete it, or move it to a different folder—the same options you have from inside Outlook. And Outlook doesn't have to be running for you to do it; for example, if you want to read the message, Outlook will launch automatically.

Figure 5. Right-clicking a file or email message to get a context-relevant menu of choices for what you can do with the file or message

Similarly, if you right-click a Word document, you get a much wider choice of options, as shown in Figure6—in essence, the same set of options you'd get if you right-clicked the file in Windows Explorer.

Figure 6. Right-clicking a Word document to get a list of options

This is the quick way to use the MSN Search Bar. If you want to get the full power of the tool, after you type in your search term, press Enter, or click the arrow to the right of the input box, and you'll come to the screen shown in Figure 7.

Figure 7. The more complete results shown in the MSN Desktop Search program

Right-click any file and you get the same menu of options you get when the results pop up.

But this screen gives you far more options than that. Sort the results in different ways by clicking Title, Author, Date, Size, or Type, and sort them in ascending or descending order. Better yet, you can see your search broken down by category. Click Email, for example, and you'll see all email-related results; click Music, and you'll see any results in music files; click Documents, and you'll see results in Microsoft Office documents; and so on.

WARNING

Some people with two computers who copy their Outlook .pst file back and forth between them might run into problems with MSN Desktop Search; it might return multiple results of the same item. Some people copy their .pst file from one computer to the other so that they can always have the latest version of their Outlook data on whatever PC they're currently using. But when you copy .pst files over one another, MSN Desktop Search might get fooled and list individual emails multiple times in a search. If that happens to you, your best bet is to rebuild your index. From MSN Desktop Search, choose Options → Desktop Options → Desktop Search, and click the Rebuild Index button. Your PC will be reindexed (which will most likely take several hours), and the new index will replace the old one, so you should no longer see multiple copies of the same item in the search results.

MSN Desktop Search Syntax

The true power of the program comes not in its basic searches—although those, as you can see, are quite powerful—but in the search syntax you can use. The syntax has been explicitly created to help you search through documents on your PC. So, unlike with the Google Desktop, you'll be able to search inside specific folders. And you can also search by the author of a document, by the sender and recipient of email, and so on. And, of course, it can handle Boolean searches, so you can use OR, AND, wildcards, and so on.

Let's say you want to find all email that was sent to you from Joe Metz, that had attachments, and that contained the word budget. You'd issue this search:

kind:email from:Joe Metz has:attachment budget

If you want to find every PowerPoint presentation in the Money folder with the word ROI in it, issue this search:

kind:presentation folder:Money ROI

provides a more complete list of search syntax.

Table 7. MSN Desktop Search syntax

Syntax

Meaning

Has:attachment

Search for emails with attachments

Before:

Search for items created before a specific date

After:

Search for items created after a specific date

Author:

Search for documents created by a specific person

From:

Search for email from a specific person

To:

Search for email sent to a specific person

Kind:Contacts

Search through contacts

Kind:email

Search through email

Kind:meetings

Search through meetings in Outlook

Kind:Tasks

Search through tasks in Outlook

Kind:Notes

Search through notes in Outlook

Kind:text documents

Search through text documents

Kind:email

Search through email

Kind:spreadsheet

Search through spreadsheets

Kind:music

Search through music files

Kind:pictures

Search through graphics files

Kind:videos

Search through videos

Kind:favorites

Search through favorites

Store:Outlook

Search through Outlook

Store:oe

Search through Outlook Express

Folder:

Search through a specific folder

This is just a small sample of the syntax. For a more complete listing, click the arrow next to the butterfly icon on MSN Desktop Search, choose Help → Desktop Search Help, go to the Tips and Tricks section of Help, and click Advanced Query Reference.

Turning Indexing On and Off

There's one thing Google Desktop has that MSN Desktop Search doesn't, and that's real-time indexing. In Google Desktop, after the initial indexing, your files and email are instantly indexed in real time as you create them or receive them. That's not the case with MSN Desktop Search. After its initial indexing, it indexes only when your computer is idle. That means that when you do a search, it won't include information added since the last indexing.

TIP

MSN Desktop Search will index Outlook or Outlook Express only when those programs are open, so open them if you want them indexed.

You can manually tell it to index while you're working, however. Right-click the magnifying glass with a butterfly on it in the Notification area and choose Index Now. You'll see the magnifying glass slowly flashing as it indexes, and it will continue to index as you work.

If you're not sure whether your index is up-to-date, click the magnifying glass with a butterfly on it and choose Indexing Status. The screen shown in Figure 8 appears. You'll see the total number of items that have already been indexed, and how many items are waiting to be indexed. To start indexing, click Index Now.

Figure 8. Checking the status of your indexing

This screen also lets you tell MSN for how long it should wait while your PC is idle before it starts indexing your PC. From the drop-down box next to Snooze, choose the amount of time you want it to wait before indexing. Your choices are from 15 seconds to one day.

WARNING

MSN Desktop Search doesn't completely index all the content in large files. For files larger than 1MB, it indexes only the first 1MB. That means that if you're searching, and the term you're searching for is found only after the first 1MB of a large document, MSN Desktop Search won't find it. At this point, there's no way to change the option to completely index the contents of large documents.

See also:


  • [Hack #45]



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