[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
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.
At the time of this writing, you can download MSN Desktop Search at
most likely it will be at a different location soon. Check
In fact, this great search tool is one of the best utilities of any
kind you can find, and it's free.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
Table 7. MSN Desktop Search syntax
Search for emails with attachments
Search for items created before a specific date
Search for items created after a specific date
Search for documents created by a specific person
Search for email from a specific person
Search for email sent to a specific person
Search through contacts
Search through email
Search through meetings in Outlook
Search through tasks in Outlook
Search through notes in Outlook
Search through text documents
Search through email
Search through spreadsheets
Search through music files
Search through graphics files
Search through videos
Search through favorites
Search through Outlook
Search through Outlook Express
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
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.
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.
Hacking the Hack
When MSN Desktop Search sits on the Taskbar, there's
one niggling annoyance that won't go away. The
butterfly image (which Microsoft insiders call a
jellybean because it's shaped
like one) takes up precious Taskbar space, as does the small arrow to
the right of it, as shown previously in Figure 2.
They become a problem when you run a lot of programs at the same
time. With the jellybean there, because there's less
space on the Taskbar, you won't be able to see the
tiles of all the programs that are currently running.
There's a simple Registry hack that will kill the
jellybean and arrow, but still gives you the features of search.
First, run the Registry Editor and go to
Create a new DWORD value called
Buttons and give it a value of
1. Exit the Registry.
Now, take MSN Desktop Search away from the Taskbar by right-clicking
the Taskbar, choosing Properties, and removing the checkmark from MSN
Deskbar. Then, right-click the Taskbar again, choose Properties, and
put a checkmark next to MSN Deskbar. MSN Desktop Search will appear
again on the Taskbar, this time without the jellybean, as shown in Figure 9
Figure 9. No jellybean in the Taskbar