Search me

Windows Desktop Search updates with improved functionality, including the ability to search networked drives, but it lacks an easy-to-use interface.

There are essentially two ways to look at Windows Desktop Search. On the optimistic side, it's Microsoft's attempt to port some of Vista's search functionality to older Windows XP and 2000 systems. If you're more of a glass-half-empty type, though, it's more like Microsoft's half-hearted attempt to compete with other indexing desktop-search programs.

You can opt out of indexing your hard drive during installation, a slow and tedious process best done while away from your machine, but why would you? If you're not interested in a search tool that indexes everything, you might as well throw out your computer and hunt down an Underwood and some correction fluid.

OK, so maybe it's not that extreme, but that's pretty much where desktop searching is going these days. Anyway, WDS is hamstrung and ineffective without indexing. One of the best features in the app is that you can also search network drives. Indexing one substantially increases the time it takes to complete the process, but it's a great feature once finished.

Another excellent function in WDS is the useful preview pane. When you click on a specific file type, like a JPEG, it shows you a thumbnail and lists other similar file types in the same folder under the preview. This keeps your search results separate from the folder contents, but makes both accessible.

WDS integrates well with other Microsoft apps, especially Outlook, but no better than its competitors. The WDS interface is nailed, permanently, to the desktop taskbar and opens up a larger Windows Explorer-style window when you hit Enter or the magnifying glass icon.

Strangely--or not, if you don't like Microsoft's design theory--the Preferences are not easy to get to. Getting to the Change Settings or Add a Network Drive options is painful. Here's a hint: they're under Desktop Search Options when you click on the grid icon, next to the Help question mark.

Also, we've read a growing number of complaints about post-indexing CPU sluggishness, although we didn't experience it ourselves. The final result? WDS is a good indexing search tool, but unless you spend a lot of time on networked drives, we'd look elsewhere.