MSN Toolbar Suite: First Impressions

Update: here's a bunch of useful resources for it, like how to add other search engines, remove buttons, etc. This might well fix some of the gripes I have written about below (once I have time to try them out).

I've been using Lookout for months now, and rely on it to index and search all my corporate e-mail (yes, I use Outlook in the office - I happen to live in the real world, not that cosy Mac-oriented haven zealots try to create around them at any cost), so I went and downloaded the MSN toolbar suite hoping that its desktop search was useful for sifting through the 1.6GB of e-mail I accreted this year alone.

I figured that I was going to have to run it some day or other (my company is a Microsoft shop, at least on the desktop level), so I might as well get used to it.

So here's my take:

  • It's ugly as sin. I don't want the damned butterfly cluttering my toolbars, I want a standard button. And definetly not a green one - this is my corporate laptop, not a girlie PC with a My Little Pony theme.
  • It is crawling with MSN links to a zillion places I don't care about. My corporate Internet policy probably flags 90% of them as violations anyway.
  • It does the most asinine thing imaginable and opens an embedded browser with an ActiveX control that lists the contents of my Outlook searches - I would rather have a pure Windows app, but it's better than the browser-only approach.
  • There is no way to remove unnecessary search options (like MSN web search or their crummy news search) - nor, of course, to use alternative Web search engines, or any corporate intranet resources.
  • It does the absolutely unforgivable idiocy of using IE as the browser for some of the links it supplies.
  • It shares a glaring limitation with Lookout: you cannot open the containing folder for Outlook items.

The good points are that:

  • It indexes "conversations", i.e., you can invoke related e-mails easily.
  • It seems to contain some of the best bits of Lookout query code (searching for things like from: Person and suchlike worked).
  • The taskbar module presents a neat summary of search results (updated as you type).
  • The taskbar module can be summoned with a hotkey combination, making for a reasonably decent AppRocket/Quicksilver replacement.
  • It indexed all the source code files I had on my hard disk, including the PHP docs.
  • It shows image and document previews.
  • It seems to index EXIF tags.

I will stick with it for a while, since it's well integrated with Windows. I would vastly prefer it wasn't MSN-themed, though (which also means being able to remove all the MSN links crud), and that it showed more respect for the current Windows color scheme.

It's no Spotlight, but it shows some polish and gets the job done. And if you want to know more, I'm going to bend my I-do-not-link-to-zealots rule a little and point you here, which is Paul Thurrott's gushing preview. He is not what I would call an unbiased - or even reliable - reference for Windows stuff (especially since he claims Apple is copying Microsoft, which is hilarious to say the least) but he has a lot of screenshots up.

Just make sure you keep your anti-drivel shields up.

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