Windows Search 4.0 is designed to let users quickly find documents, e-mails, photos, and other files archived on their hard drives.
It also offers a number of benefits over previous versions, according to Microsoft.
Among them is a feature called Encrypted File System indexing, through which administrators can safely index and make available to authorized users files that have been encrypted for security reasons.
Another new feature allows a search of one computer's hard drive to be carried out by another, remotely connected PC. Also introduced is what Microsoft calls Rollback Recovery, a feature that rolls the search index back to its last known "good state." That means the index does not have to be rebuilt from scratch if an error occurs.
Windows Search 4.0 also reduces the hit that Exchange Server ordinarily takes when online mailboxes are indexed, according to Microsoft. Meanwhile, new group policy settings let IT managers fine-tune the search engine for use within an enterprise setting.
Microsoft said Windows Search 4.0 is faster than the default desktop search tools currently included with its Windows Vista and Windows XP operating systems. It also said it fixes many of the bugs reported in Vista's current search tool and is about 33% faster.
In improving its desktop search tools, Microsoft is looking to fend off competition from Google. While Google has a lock on the Web search market, it's also extending its search technology to the desktop with an eye to capturing more of that market.
The company in 2004 introduced Google Desktop Search. The latest version, 5.5, was released late last year.