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Apple and MS Battle For Desktop Search Supremacy 707

markmcb writes "As Microsoft and Apple go back and forth about who came up with what idea first, it's been hard to tell who the real innovaters are. Michael Gartenberg and Jim Allchin of Microsoft give some fair opinions on the current desktop search battle. While they do give credit to Apple's iTunes for search inspiration and to Apple being first out of the box in the OS race, they both imply that Microsoft will provide more robust features with the release of Longhorn."
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Apple and MS Battle For Desktop Search Supremacy

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  • Uh...OS 8.5 (Score:5, Informative)

    by Wyatt Earp ( 1029 ) on Tuesday April 19, 2005 @02:41PM (#12284388)
    Wasn't Sherlock on 8.5 the first "desktop search" tool? For the Apple/Windows fight, or did it get web intergration with 9? It's been so long ago I forgot.
  • Re:Uhh, GOOGLE? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Iphtashu Fitz ( 263795 ) on Tuesday April 19, 2005 @02:41PM (#12284395)
    Actually Apple had a desktop search as part of the Mac OS at least as far back as 1998. I forget what it was called but it came with a bunch of pre-defined search sites and you could download and add plugins from other sites as well. It was part of the OS search feature, though, and not a plug-in to a web browser.
  • What about Beagle? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Xpilot ( 117961 ) on Tuesday April 19, 2005 @02:43PM (#12284412) Homepage
    We can currently download Beagle [] for open source operating systems and desktops, and it's already somewhat usable. It's written in C# and requires Mono, and I think it's one of the killer apps for OSS too. We've also see it ported to Windows [] so things are getting very interesting here.

    So between Spotlight and Longhorn and Google and Beagle, it's not just a 2-way battle :)

  • Re:Uhh, GOOGLE? (Score:3, Informative)

    by bushidocoder ( 550265 ) on Tuesday April 19, 2005 @02:43PM (#12284413) Homepage
    Companies like X1 [] (recently bought by Yahoo) have been making desktop search systems for years that are vastly superior to the new arrivals in the desktop search wars. It just wasn't a popular topic until very recently.
  • Re:They both suck (Score:5, Informative)

    by dcclark ( 846336 ) on Tuesday April 19, 2005 @02:44PM (#12284434) Homepage
    I'm not sure where that's coming from. I can't speak for Longhorn's search features, but Spotlight (in OS X 10.4) will search based on contents, file name, and tons of metadata. You could toss your files onto your hard disk in any random way you want, and it would be equally efficient at searching as if you had organized it in a more human-friendly way.

    Ideally, if you can't remember what you called the document, then maybe you can remember a few key words from its contents, the approximate day when you created it, some metadata such as "photo taken at the Mackinaw Bridge" or something like that.

    So while this may not be groundbreakingly new, I think that Spotlight really will provide USEFUL features. Based on what I've seen in previews and whatnot, it would be extremely useful to have an always-ready and always-accessible search feature which can handle metadata easily.
  • by blueturffan ( 867705 ) on Tuesday April 19, 2005 @02:45PM (#12284454)
    Can't wait for Longhorn? Try Copernic Desktop Search for WinXP. [])

    Makes finding files or email messages a breeze.

  • by Trixter ( 9555 ) on Tuesday April 19, 2005 @02:46PM (#12284462) Homepage
    Anyone here old enough to remember Lotus Magellan? If any company or product could be considered first in the desktop search category, it would be Magellan. Released in the late 1980s, it indexed every file on your hard drive into Btrees; when you searched for a term, it would narrow the results in realtime with every keystroke -- blazingly fast. Found files were displayed (many looking just like they would in their native program thanks to several file type filters) with the search word highlighted. Truly one of the MS-DOS highlights of the 1980s.
  • by ikewillis ( 586793 ) on Tuesday April 19, 2005 @02:52PM (#12284541) Homepage
    How about BeOS LiveQueries, created by Dominique Giampaolo who would later be hired by Apple to develop Spotlight?

    Spotlight is largely an improvement on the ideas he developed with LiveQueries, adding natural language metadata searching to an OS that's pro-actively metadata oriented in the first place.

    If anything, everyone else copied BeOS... the real difference is Spotlight is available to the public at the end of the month. With WinFS, who can say? 2007? 2008? 2009?

    The open source world can look forward to Spotlight-like functionality once Beagle and inotify mature, the only real drawbacks are that it's currently rather unstable and written in .NET/Mono

  • by ergo98 ( 9391 ) on Tuesday April 19, 2005 @02:52PM (#12284545) Homepage Journal
    It's offtopic, but I used Google Desktop Search for a while and found it terrible. I switched to Copernic and have never looked back.

    (Oh I tried the MSN search tool as well, but found Copernic superior to that as well)
  • by micron ( 164661 ) on Tuesday April 19, 2005 @02:56PM (#12284602)
    Most of the guys who wrote Magellan got back together and released a new desktop search package called X1.

    It is quite good, and worth looking at, especially if you were a Magellan fan.

  • Re:They both suck (Score:3, Informative)

    by taybin ( 622573 ) <taybin@[ ] ['tay' in gap]> on Tuesday April 19, 2005 @03:05PM (#12284720) Homepage
    It's not just for MP3s. They took iTune's MP3 indexing features and generalized so it would be useful for other applications. They added it to the OS so that it would be generally available. I wouldn't be suprised if the new iTunes doesn't have an internal MP3 search, but instead uses the new, generalized, Spotlight search.
  • by daveschroeder ( 516195 ) * on Tuesday April 19, 2005 @03:06PM (#12284731)
    No, scratch that.

    Really wrong.

    1. The user does not have to organize the contents. At all.

    2. Almost all metadata, except the one example you picked, requires no user action or intervention. Things like the contents of a textual document (text files, word documents, spreadsheets, PDFs, email messages, bookmarks, etc.) Things like the properties of a file (larger or smaller than a given size, created before, after, or during a time, etc.) Things like the properties of image files (all CMYK files of type X with resolution Y, etc.)

    The ONLY thing you have to add keyword metadata to manually is pictures.

    So, in sum, you're completely wrong.
  • supremacy? (Score:4, Informative)

    by deego ( 587575 ) on Tuesday April 19, 2005 @03:09PM (#12284777)
    There are open source indexing+search products too!

    swish (GPL)

    doodle (GPL)

    beagle in gnome..

    nnir (for email)



  • Re:I don't get it (Score:3, Informative)

    by yabos ( 719499 ) on Tuesday April 19, 2005 @03:10PM (#12284793)
    It's good because it's not slow as hell searching. The index is updated before you search so you know exactly where everything is. Windows search is slow as molasis in winter. With a pre indexed drive you type your search in and instantly you have your files.
  • Re:I don't get it (Score:3, Informative)

    by fribhey ( 731586 ) on Tuesday April 19, 2005 @03:10PM (#12284794) Homepage
    because OS X's spotlight searches INSIDE of files and meta tags. it can search inside email messages (not just search but subject or sender) and can search inside of word docs, pdfs, mp3s, etc etc. current search tools in only search file names/types/dates. Mac OS X Tiger indexes every file on the hard drive so search results will be instantaneous as you type. read about spotlight here to see why it is a big deal vs. current search tools:
  • by As Seen On TV ( 857673 ) <> on Tuesday April 19, 2005 @03:22PM (#12284954)
    First of all, OS X and Mac OS had a superb search FOR ages which works VERY good. Windows search compare to that is a JOKE. Spotlight is just more branded and search more metadata and gives it in more user friendly form.

    Basically everything you said here is wrong.

    Ever since Panther, we've had a thing called Search Kit. (The technology behind Search Kit goes farther back than that.) Search Kit would index the contents of readable files, meaning plain text, and allow you to search them.

    It was slow, it wasn't extensible, and it wasn't modular.

    Spotlight is completely different. Spotlight has a content-search component, but it also has a metadata-search component, and both are linked to data through modular pieces of code called importers. Each importer is associated with one or more file types. When a file of a given type changes on disk (is written to, moved or created), the Spotlight import task (mdimport) calls the relevant importer(s) to re-index the file. These importers are very simple and run very fast. Even on old hardware, the overhead of Spotlight indexing isn't noticeable, in large part because it runs at a very low priority.

    So Spotlight is really something new. It's ubiquitous and it's modular and it's fast.

    Microsoft's search technology looks strikingly similar on paper. Problem is it only exists on paper.
  • Re:And the winner is (Score:3, Informative)

    by pianophile ( 181111 ) on Tuesday April 19, 2005 @03:32PM (#12285062)
    BeOS , it had file metadata support years ago and worked well with it .

    Did you know that Dominic Giampaolo, one of the file system gurus from Be, now works at Apple? you can even download a book he wrote about file systems from his web page [].

  • It's the Contextual Linkage Engine [] that will be part of KDE4. They got some pretty cool ideas which you can read about in that article and also in the comments.
  • Re:Dunno... (Score:4, Informative)

    by PureCreditor ( 300490 ) on Tuesday April 19, 2005 @03:36PM (#12285104)
    Ever tried Smart Playlists in iTunes ?

    - Give me the 25 most frequently played songs by either Spears, Beyonce, or Aguilera, added in the past 6 months, that are longer than 3 mins but shorter than 5.

    Bam you have the list. And auto-updates as you add new songs and as time moves on.

    Now imagine the same thing for the entire OS.

    Smart Mailbox, Smart folders.

    Even though Windows 98 has a really weak "Find" too, I use it everyday at work by dumping all my documents in "My Documents", and use search to find the file I want instead of going through folders, and scrolling hundreds of files.
  • Re:Uhh, GOOGLE? (Score:5, Informative)

    by timster ( 32400 ) on Tuesday April 19, 2005 @03:45PM (#12285198)
    WinFS has been dropped from Longhorn as it won't be ready in time. Well, actually they dropped it and then came up with something else CALLED WinFS which has nothing to do with what you are talking about. The search in Longhorn is an index system just like Spotlight, and everything still runs on NTFS.

    Don't expect Microsoft's new file system to be available before 2010. At this point nobody knows what form it will take. WinFS has been kicked around for about a decade now and nothing has come of it, so Microsoft may choose to make incremental improvements to NTFS instead of going the database-driven route.
  • by podperson ( 592944 ) on Tuesday April 19, 2005 @04:02PM (#12285402) Homepage
    I'd say On Location was the first serious tool of this type. Find Pro was a freeware/shareware search tool which eventually was licensed by Apple and became Sherlock.
  • Re:Uhh, GOOGLE? (Score:5, Informative)

    by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Tuesday April 19, 2005 @04:22PM (#12285618) Homepage Journal
    Sherlock, AFAIK, only indexed text and text-like files, and treated them as an amorphous blob of text. It did so crudely through nightly scrapes of the entire hard drive, which most users tended to... um... cancel....

    Spotlight indexes every file on your system for which there's a scraping agent (I forget the correct term). And companies can create those agents for their own file formats and tag all sorts of metadata about files in addition to the raw text content.

    For example, if your word processor supports a structured title page (i.e. if it knows who the author is, what the title is, etc.), and if there's an agent that understands its file format, you could do a spotlight query that searched specifically for any file where the author was "Anonymous Coward".

    More importantly, after the initial indexing pass (where applicable), spotlight doesn' index files nightly like Sherlock. Spotlight knows when you've been sleeping, it knows when you're awake, it knows when you change files a bit, and keeps its index up-to-date. :-)

    Comparing Spotlight to Sherlock is a lot like comparing an RSS-enhanced version of Google to the old world-wide-web worm.... It's an entirely different animal altogether.

  • Re:No Contest! (Score:3, Informative)

    by Moofie ( 22272 ) <> on Tuesday April 19, 2005 @04:28PM (#12285679) Homepage
    If by "Apple however did "borrow" ideas from Xerox" you mean that "Apple paid licensing money to use Xerox's R&D ideas as the basis for Apple's tremendous user-interface investment", yes.

    I mean, if you're going to be accurate, let's be accurate.
  • by GaryPatterson ( 852699 ) on Tuesday April 19, 2005 @07:29PM (#12287354)
    Have a read of posts by "As Seen on TV". You might need to dip into his recent post history to see what I mean.

    He's an Apple software engineer, and gives a good insight into exactly what Spotlight can do.

    It's not just searching by content, and it's not just the metadata that we've known for ages.

    I'd elaborate, but he's already explained it much better.
  • Re:Search Technology (Score:3, Informative)

    by GaryPatterson ( 852699 ) on Tuesday April 19, 2005 @07:36PM (#12287422)
    So how do you search for (example) all images emailed to a family member in the two weeks before Christmas?

    Spotlight can do this.

    What about Excel files printed in the last week? Spotlight can do this too.

    Or dog photos added to Pages documents that were subsequently sent to a friend?

    With a little image metadata ("it's a dog") Spotlight can do this as well.

    Organisation is great, but it's only giving you one part of the picture. Spotlight also tracks what you've done with those files, allowing you to effectively search your usage history *as well as* the file contents/names/etc.
  • Re:Uhh, GOOGLE? (Score:4, Informative)

    by JohnsonWax ( 195390 ) on Tuesday April 19, 2005 @09:04PM (#12288103)
    "Really, I'd love to see what Apple has in store for Spotlight, but I definitely know that Windows Longhorn is better off without WinFS the way they originally planned it."

    If I'm not mistaken, Apple is using Core Data's sqlite interface to manage the metadata, so they're doing almost exactly what you are proposing.
  • Re:hey, dumbass (Score:3, Informative)

    by mr100percent ( 57156 ) * on Wednesday April 20, 2005 @03:38AM (#12290341) Homepage Journal
    Tiger is more than an update, it's got features that I'd pay to upgrade to. Automator? VoiceOver Spoken Interface? Quicktime 7? Spotlight architecture? I'd pay for each of those features, and I'm getting a bunch of extra features with the OS, like RSS support and Access Control Lists.

    So Spotlight isn't as good as Longhorn? Care to explain to me their strengths and weaknesses? Can you provide me with a screenshot or two? The story linked to in this article is no good, it tells of things that Apple already has, and leaves out details on the search technology.

System checkpoint complete.