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Yahoo Throws Hat in Desktop Search Ring

Yahoo became the latest search engine to introduce a desktop search tool, joining rivals Google, Microsoft and Ask Jeeves yesterday.

Yahoo Desktop Search, based on technology Yahoo licensed from Pasadena, CA, desktop search company X1 Technologies, lets users find more than 200 file types on their computers. Yahoo said the tool, still a test version, would stand out from its rivals' offerings by its speed, comprehensiveness and user control.

Search giants have rushed to roll out desktop search tools following Google's release of a free desktop search tool in October. Like Google and other search engines, Yahoo offers the desktop application for free and without advertising.

Yahoo has no plans to add paid listings from its Overture Services division, said Bradley Horowitz, Yahoo's director of desktop search. No desktop search tools currently display paid listings targeted to users' computer searches. Google has gone furthest in combining desktop search with paid listings by integrating desktop search results with Web search results.

“There's a real vacuum to the ability to find what you're looking for,” Horowitz said. “It's not driven from a monetization standpoint but filling a gap when it comes to our user base.”

Search engines view tools like desktop search as a way to tie users closer to their services. Horowitz concedes that unlike Web search, in which users often use more than one search site, desktop search is an avenue to establishing an exclusive relationship with a consumer.

“The switching costs to typing in a different URL are fundamentally different than a tool you're going to live behind,” he said.

Yahoo Desktop Search can crawl computers for everything from e-mails to Word documents to PowerPoint presentations. Horowitz said the breadth of searchable files with Yahoo Desktop Search would win it users. It also lets a user quickly preview a document before opening it. The preview appears in a pane on the right side of the application's screen. Users also can search the Web separately through Yahoo Search from the tool.

“We're trying to complete tasks for the user,” he said. “That doesn't stop at search.”

Yahoo plans to add further features that link to Yahoo services. For example, Yahoo Desktop Search cannot currently search Yahoo's e-mail or address book services.

Unlike Google Desktop Search, Yahoo Desktop Search does not integrate with the Yahoo search engine and instead functions as a standalone piece of software. He said that could help allay privacy concerns of users worried that their desktop searches might be compiled by a third party. As a further nod to privacy, Yahoo Desktop Search does not automatically catalog viewed Web pages, as Google Desktop Search does.

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