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Yahoo to Release Desktop Search Tool

Free Product to Compete With Google's

By David A. Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 10, 2004; Page E05

The competition between two leading Internet search engines is heating up anew as Yahoo Inc. plans to announce today that it soon will offer a free, high-speed way to search for information on personal computers, challenging rival Google Inc., which released a similar product this fall.

Yahoo's search program, available in test form in January, will expand on Google's offering by allowing users to search for more than e-mails and other documents on their hard drives. It will enable people to comb through their MP3 music files, which Google's product does not, officials said. In addition, unlike Google, Yahoo plans to provide a way to search saved Portable Document Format files, or PDFs, often used to distribute documents.

Google gained attention with its desktop search tool, which helps people quickly find information on hard drives. (Mary Altaffer -- AP)

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Yahoo officials claim their program is faster than Google's offering. Yahoo has teamed with X1 Technologies Inc., which sells desktop search software for businesses. Yahoo plans to give away a specialized version of X1, tailoring it for use by individuals.

The world's major search engines have been racing to roll out new features in recent months in hopes of tapping the increasingly lucrative market for advertising linked to search results. Many expect Microsoft Corp. to eventually release a product of its own, tied to its widely used Windows operating system.

"We have definitely seen the search wars move onto the desktop. Google fired the first shot that everyone expected Microsoft to do. Now, we have Yahoo getting in there as well," said Danny Sullivan, editor of SearchEngineWatch.com, an online news service.

Sullivan said it is too early to tell who will win the desktop search war. Most computer users have yet to install anything that organizes and indexes e-mails, files and virtually everything else on their hard drives. One reason, he said, is that people are afraid that their privacy will be breached if others sit down at their computers and can easily and quickly locate and transfer confidential or sensitive information of all kinds.

Users may gradually warm to the software as more companies enter the fray.

"By the end of this year, we will have a wealth of free desktop search tools, whereas we started the year with nothing for free and little ability to find stuff on the computer desktop like we can on the Web," Sullivan said.

Both the Google and Yahoo versions are designed to enable computer users to find information on the hard drives of their computers as easily and rapidly as they can use the search engines to scour the World Wide Web.

Officials at the two companies said they view the new software as a way to garner more customers for their Internet search services. While Google and Yahoo have wide followings, Google leads Yahoo in online users, and Google was first to release a test version of its desktop search engine.

Jeff Weiner, senior vice president of search for Yahoo, said the company's desktop search software tries to speed the process by employing a technology called "typedown search" that attempts to guess at what the user wants before the user has finished typing a query.

Weiner predicted many other breakthroughs in the months ahead. "We are in the very early days of the evolution of desktop search," he said.

Sullivan, who has been briefed on the Yahoo offering but has not used it, said he was told the program would also allow users to search by date or other criteria. He said he is using Google's desktop search engine himself and finds it valuable.

"I use it all the time," Sullivan said. "It is the first desktop tool I have had that I continued to use. In the past, they have been a pain."

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