Desktop search - are you outside looking, or inside looking out?
The release of Microsoft's new desktop search facility shows once again that Microsoft should never be underestimated. It's already a slick polished product, that shows up in all the right places (Outlook, the task bar, IE) ... at least, if you've rolled over and are using Microsoft lock stock and barrell. I've always been a big fan of the Google toolbar for the same reason, and this makes it just that much easier to search wherever I am contextually at the time, without having to click that extra button or hyperlink.
In Charles Ferguson's article on Google for Technology Review [via John Battelle], he outlines what Microsoft can do in search by virtue of owning the proprietary APIs that underly so much of the data we manipulate on a daily basis (email and office documents - again, provided you're using Outlook and Office). Microsoft's tool demonstrates this again - in comparison, Google's desktop search, while a good effort, just doesn't provide the same deep level of filtering that is possible. I'm still of the opinion that Google's desktop ranking algorithms appear to be a bit better, but they don't find as much stuff as the Microsoft tool, and it's not even finished indexing my desktop yet. And it's not much better, like they've been able to do in Web search for so long.
I think at heart there remains a fundamental difference of world view between Microsoft's approach and Google's on the desktop. Google is all about the network - and a networked set of documents. Their new project to digitise large collections of academic libraries illustrates this perfectly - make everything connected and thus searchable. The approach they took to desktop search was the same, it's as if you'd put your entire document collection up on the web and let Google search it, and then very nicely, in any search you run with Google, you get to see your information included in the search results as if it was part of this one big enormous document collection that Google indexes. I characterise this as the outside looking in.
Microsoft's approach is just about the opposite, and again reflects its own culture, which is me-centric. I'm on the inside, at the centre or the hub if you like, of my own information spaces (located on my PC), looking out to draw parts of the world into me. Thus it gives me a much richer understanding of the data that exists here locally in my own information space. Of course, results are all wrapped into a web browser display, because you may be wanting to search the web instead, or any other connected information.
Which of these philosophies may ultimately prevail is going to depend on a whole lot of different things, not just whether people feel more comfortable looking out or looking in, but I think it's an interesting difference.
All up the current situation, making a whole lot of people just a little nervous no doubt at Google, reminds me of an African folk tale I heard many years ago in South Africa while visiting the Kruger National Park. (There was a park radio station, which tells you lots of stories about the park, including folk tales about the animals.) I've forgotten the details, but the gist of the story was, don't make your camp between a herd of hippopotami and the river.
Disclaimer: the author holds shares in neither Microsoft nor Google, although he knows people who have shares in each of them.