Microsoft prepares to auto-deliver Windows Search 4.0 to Vista users

If you notice your hard drive crunching later this month while performing a menial task, fear not: it's just the new Windows Search software creating an index of your files. Microsoft plans to automatically deliver version 4.0 of the software, formerly Windows Desktop Search, to Vista users.

Windows Search 4.0 was released in June and Microsoft says it has "seen a good number of downloads, and a number of positive responses from customers." The advantage over Vista's built-in search function is one of performance, the company claims. The structure of the search index was completely redesigned to speed up locating items on the hard drive and networked PCs.

But not all changes will happen behind the scenes. Version 4.0 will place a new "Deskbar" next to the system tray that makes it possible to perform searches directly from the Windows Taskbar. A pop-up lets users select whether to search locally or on the Web, and choose filtering options.

In BetaNews tests of Windows Search 4.0, we found the software doesn't try to replace the default search engine selected by the user, a good move considering it may soon be on over 100 million PCs. Microsoft has also attempted to make the transition fairly painless, promising, "the indexing process doesn't take too long and won't lock your PC."

The slightly revised search screen from the new Windows Search 4.0 (nee 'Desktop')

Responses from users have been generally positive, although Windows Search 4.0 isn't without its quirks. You have to manually change between searching between files and e-mail, and networked drives aren't indexed by default because it requires Windows Search to be installed on each system. A lack of results can also bring up strange error messages, one BetaNews reader reported.

So who gets Windows Search 4.0 and the Deskbar later this month? Windows XP users will find it as an optional update that must be installed manually. It will be delivered to Windows Vista users as a "Recommended" update, which are installed by default on Vista systems. In order to opt-out of receiving the replacement search, users must uncheck the box in the settings for Automatic Updates.

Because of the huge number of computer running Vista, Microsoft says "the automatic update may not come to your machine for some time. The update will go to a small percentage of Windows users each day, the percentage increasing gradually."

Microsoft has published a support article detailing how organizations can block the installation of Windows Search 4.0, although it involves creating a batch script that inserts a key into the registry -- not a simple process. Those utilizing WSUS for updates don't need to worry just yet, as they won't see the new search until later this year, when Microsoft will provide more details about delivery.

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