updated 5/16/2005 9:12:36 AM ET 2005-05-16T13:12:36

Eager to gain some ground in the battle to help people find their computer files, Microsoft Corp. launched the final version of its desktop search software on Monday.

The free software is part of the MSN Search Toolbar Suite, which Microsoft introduced several months ago as a test version.  That version lets computer users search not only by file names but also by the contents of documents, e-mails, calendar entries, pictures and PowerPoint presentations.

The new version expands the types of files supported and lets users customize how the program sorts different files — by date, size, author or sender, among other options.  "You can really slice and dice the results any way you want," said Justin Osmer, product manager for MSN Search.

(MSNBC is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)

Desktop-searching has become an incredibly competitive field.  Yahoo Inc., Google Inc. and America Online Inc., among others, have similar products already out or in testing.

The final version of the MSN Search software includes preview panes that offer a detailed glimpse at files as they're found on the computer.  If you were looking for a picture, for example, you could see the image itself, instead of just an icon and a file name.  It's a feature Yahoo Inc.'s desktop search product also offers.

Searching for PDF files based on keywords in the body of the document will require a separate plug-in that can be downloaded with the software.

Neither Microsoft's nor Yahoo's product records Web sites you've visited, while Google's program can retrieve such Web pages from your computer, even if you had never saved it.  The Microsoft and Yahoo programs, meanwhile, remove e-mail and other files you've deleted, while Google keeps them in its index unless you delete them there as well.

The Microsoft desktop search software will work only on machines running Windows 2000 or Windows XP.

"By offering the most integrated search capabilities for Windows, now people can search their PC as fast as they can search the Web," said Yusuf Mehdi, an MSN vice president.

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