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When is a search not a search?

by Brandon on May 7th, 2006

All too frequently I will tell someone that I work on Desktop Search, and get the response “That’s cool, but I know where all my files are so I don’t need that.”

Wrong I say. 

I keep all of my files organized in a logical hierarchy.  For instance, music is organized into folders by Genre, then Artist, then Album.  All of my photos are organized into reasonably sensible folders, same for documents.

Very, very rarely will I ever search for something on my hard drive not knowing where it is.  But I use Desktop Search every single day, almost everytime that I sit at the computer.  Why?  Read on.

1) Speed

Without WDS – I can play Slide by the Goo Goo Dolls by going into my Music folder, drilling into “Rock”, then “Goo Goo Dolls”, then try and remember which album it’s on.  If I remember that it’s Dizzy Up The Girl, I’ll go there and double click the file to play it.  Or I could go through media player and follow a slightly reduced path.

With WDS – I can play the same song by typing “slide” into the Windows Search Deskbar.  Heck, I only have to type “slid” and I see 2 versions of Slide (one from the album, and one acoustic that I forgot I had) and another Oasis song called Slide Away.  Not only did I get there faster, but I saw every copy of the song I have in one place.

2) Everything in one place

Without WDS – I might have photos in Picasa, music and videos in Media Player, IM conversations in Trillian or Messenger, E-mail and attachments in Outlook, plus documents in all kinds of formats.  What’s worse, I might have some music in Media Player and some in Napster, iTunes, MPC, or another program.  Maybe Media Player doesn’t know how to deal with my SHN and FLAC files.  So now one kind of data requires me to work through different programs and UIs.  Yuck.

With WDS – I can instantly bring up data no matter where it’s stored on my computer (or even on my network shares!) and see it all in one place.  If you’re a live music fan like me, you might have 10 different copies of a song like Dave Matthews Band’s #41.  One query and I can see them all, even though they’re scattered across 10 different folders.  I can adjust the view by adjusting the query or filters.  Now I have one UI for getting to my data all the time.  And once I’ve found it, I can take whatever action I like against it.

3) We’ve only just begun to tap its potential

Search-based UI is still in its infancy.  The potential for rich visualizations offered by a lightning-quick index with non-hierarchical structure is vast.  For example, you can infer hundreds of different hierachies from this data without locking yourself into one.  You can pivot from one kind of metadata to another.  You could even use the result set from one query to feed the parameters of the next one.

Remember, you Desktop Search results are data, not just hyperlinks.

If anything, I find the Desktop Search label to be a bit confining.  Saying it’s “just search” is like saying that Windows Explorer is “just a graphical dir command.”  There’s a lot more to it than that.

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  1. Brandon permalink

    I wish desktop search worked with Windows XP x64. I love x64, but I can’t seem to do everything I want. It is depressing. I suppose I can wait for Vista x64 to become stable enough to use, perhaps when that wonderful Beta 2 comes out this month.

  2. Andrew Calvo permalink

    You know what I’d love to see?? Maybe this isnt for Windows Desktop Search – (but your post today made me think about it) a graphical view of how much space files or folders take up on the desktop…

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