Yahoo is hoping to leapfrog Microsoft by releasing a tool that allows users to quickly and easily search for information on their PCs as well as in their personal files stored at Yahoo's online services.
Microsoft has already previewed an upcoming desktop search application which builds an index of content on a user's computer and makes it searchable. Relevant links from the internet, along with advertisements, are displayed in a pane on the right side of the screen.
Yahoo is developing a similar tool but plans to take its capabilities a step further. In addition to letting users search their local mail and hard drive, Yahoo's tool will extend the search to include personal files stored at its online services, such as e-mail, calendar, and picture hosting.
Among the key benefits of such tools is that users should be able to search through files on their desktops much faster and more thoroughly than they can with search features currently available.
"The search available in most operating systems is impoverished," said Matthew Berk, an independent analyst based in New York.
Microsoft has yet to confirm a release date for its desktop search application, but MSN product manager Justin Osmer said the tool would be out in the first half of 2005, at about the same time as new version of its MSN web search engine.
Yahoo officials declined to comment on plans for a desktop search tool, but Jeff Weiner, Yahoo senior vice-president for search and marketplace, said users should "stay tuned".
Microsoft and Yahoo are not the only companies focused on searching the desktop. Lycos released its HotBot Desktop tool earlier this year, and Ask Jeeves acquired a desktop search technology in June from Tukaroo. Google is also rumoured to be working on a product.
A host of third parties provide tools and one of those, Lookout Software, was recently acquired by Microsoft.
Joris Evers writes for IDG News Service