Lycos has launched a free toolbar search product from HotBot, its search service, which the company says is "the first product to integrate traditional desktop search with Web search within the browser." The same search tool can now reach the Internet, e-mail folders for Microsoft Outlook or Outlook Express, and user documents stored on a hard drive. The free application, Lycos HotBot DeskTop, does not even require registration. It also incorporates a blocker for pop-up ads and an RSS News Reader syndication. Searching reaches six file types: Microsoft Office files, PDF, RTF, and text. Indexes created to track e-mail and user files remain stored locally to protect user privacy.
Though users do not pay to download and use the toolbar (http://www.hotbot.com/tools/desktop/), they will read text-based ads when viewing results for several types of searches. However, ads do not appear when users search their own computer files. Though local searches are limited to specific file types, Lincoln Jackson, senior director of search products at Terra Lycos, said that "users can manually add any type of file tag, e.g., '.htm,' as long as the file is text-based."
Users must have Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.5 or above with a specific MSXML version (3.0) running on Windows 98 or greater. According to Jackson, "installation pages will detect for this and alert users automatically if they don't have this installed so they can install what they need." Jackson said that the next release of the toolbar would include an update mechanism for automatically accepting upgrades.
The beta version of the toolbar installed without any problems during a test. The interface looks like other toolbars, with a search box, the option to highlight search terms, and an option to turn on or off a pop-up blocker. Next to the search box, a downward arrow points to where users select the database they want to search. The choices are:
Currently, results come from Inktomi, through they may soon add other Web search databases. The current release allows users to add just about any search engine to the toolbar.
Users can have the toolbar index Outlook or Outlook Express folders and search the messages here.
Users may choose to have the toolbar index various file types (PDF, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.) on local computers. Lycos has licensed DTSearch technology to power the local search options. Keyword-based ads do not appear when running a local search.
Search a history folder of previously viewed Web pages.
Users can keyword search the titles of various RSS (Really Simple Syndication) and Atom syndicated feeds they've selected. Another button on the toolbar offers the option to browse the various pre-selected RSS feeds as well as the ones users have added.
Users can search the current site or just the specific page visible on their computers.
The last button on the toolbar offers numerous customization options. One important option sets which folders on your local system to index and how often. Users can elect to index their files at a specific time everyday, every few hours, or only when they instruct the software to begin the indexing process. This is important because indexing can be resource intensive and can slow a system down.
One other personalization option worth noting involves selecting "Others" from the pull-down options, which allows users to quickly and fairly easily add the search functionality from any search tool by simply following a few easy steps. For example, it only takes a couple of seconds to add the option to search the Librarians' Index to the Internet directly from the toolbar.
Is it perfect? Hardly. The Lycos toolbar has several issues of concern. Luckily, the company plans to address many of those issues in an updated release of the toolbar scheduled for the end of this quarter or early summer. Problem areas include:
- "Best Match" Searching—Boolean searching is currently not available; instead the toolbar offers a "best match" search. When you search for multiple terms, the algorithm first looks for pages that match all terms and ranks these pages higher than pages containing just one term—sort of an AND with an OR trailer. Jackson indicated that this improvement would be costly and he was "not positive they would put it in." The system does handle phrase matching with quotation marks.
- No ability to increase text size on results pages, which are often difficult to read. Jackson said that they would be looking at improving this within the month.
- Too many keyword ads. A maximum of eight ads are visible—four above results and four below. Lycos has a business to run, but a few less ads would make the toolbar more desirable, especially in a market where several excellent and low cost (about $40) tools like Scopeware offer more robust searching and no ads. On the other hand, the toolbar does offer a pop-up ad blocker.
- No option to view search terms in context without first having to select the item.
- Needs an easier method for adding other search tools. Both NeedleSearch and the new Copernic Toolbar offer simpler methods for adding search functionality from various search tools.
Nonetheless, Lycos should be congratulated for being the first major search company in many years to offer hard drive search capability with a free toolbar. This is something that many searchers have been asking for since AltaVista offered a local search toolbar called AltaVista Discovery several years ago. However, with other local search tools like Scopeware, Grokker, and X1 growing in popularity, they will need to correct several problems as soon as possible and keep offering new functionality. Lycos has indicated that future releases of its toolbar will offer some collaboration tools including the chance to share annotated bookmarks and notes with a selected group of people.
Bottom line? Lycos HotBot DeskTop is worth attention since the price is right (free) and many searchers need as much help as possible finding content on their computers.