Microsoft, Google, and desktop search (updated, after jump)

Too much is still unclear about the latest Google-Microsoft staredown (over Vista's "Instant Search" disk-search function) to hazard any larger opinion about its implications or merits. It got my attention for this simple reason: it reassured me that I wasn't going crazy. At least not in this particular way.

Under the reported terms of the settlement, Microsoft will change Vista so that users can turn off the search function that now comes built-in and turned on. For several months I have been driving myself crazy and feeling like an idiot because I had such trouble doing just that.

Vista's indexed search function is fine. It's just that I prefer another program to keep track of email, Word files, PDFs, music files, photos, and everything else on my own computer. That is X1, free at, which I've used for years and praised several times before in print. In my experience, it's faster and more flexible, with (to me) a better interface, than either Microsoft's or Google's comparable disk-search systems. It sometimes crashes under Vista, but it starts up again with little delay and no data loss.

And since I'm not using Vista's Instant Search, I'd rather do without the multi-gigabyte index files that it keeps on my hard disk, or the constant drain on processing speed. (Any indexer hogs disk space and processor time, so I don't want to run two of them at once.) How you might disable it is not, umm, obvious from the Vista help files. Apparently switching it off will now be easier to do.

Actually, it turns out that I am an idiot. If I'd seen this post on the techie site back in February, I would have known that an IT specialist named Michael Pietroforte, of the University of Munich, had provided tips on how to tame or turn off Instant Search. How could I have been so negligent! I'm trying his approach #2 right now.

(Update: Michael Ham, of the LeisureGuy / Later On blog, points out that X1's site has been changed to somewhat conceal the fact that there is a free version. I can't really blame them: it's a great product. Nonetheless, as Ham explains, you sign up for a free trial -- and when its over, the ability to search networks is disabled, but it still works very well in indexing and searching your own machine.)