Channel Insider content and product recommendations are editorially independent. We may make money when you click on links to our partners. Learn More.

REDMOND, Wash.—For more than two years, Microsoft has been talking up its goal of providing users with an integrated search capability that would allow them to find information stored locally on hard disks, on corporate intranets and across the Internet. On Thursday, Microsoft finally showed a prototype of such a service.

Here at the annual Microsoft Financial Analyst Meeting, MSN corporate vice president Yusuf Mehdi demonstrated for attendees the capability to “search beyond the Web.” Mehdi said Thursday’s demo marked the first time Microsoft has shown this integrated search facility publicly.

“We’re making very nice progress” on integrated search, Mehdi told analysts and media attending the meeting. He said the new search facility is “based on years of work” done throughout Microsoft.

“This service will let us move beyond what’s out there,” Mehdi said, referring to current and future search offerings from its competitors, especially Google. Google has provided limited glimpses of its own integrated search facility, code-named “Puffin,” which will be able to find information on users’ local drives.

MSN expected to switch to its own search technology for the MSN Search service by late this year or early next. The new search engine is currently in beta testing, but it is limited to the Web and does not search local drives or corporate intranets.

Mehdi provided few details of how the new, integrated search facility will work. He also declined to pin any kind of estimated ship date or ship vehicle on the technology. He also did not discuss what role, if any, the new e-mail search technology Microsoft acquired earlier this month from Lookout Software figured into the solution.

Mehdi did say that the integrated search facility is being developed by a number of Microsoft teams, including the MSN Search team, the Longhorn team, Microsoft Research and the company’s “Interknowledge” team.

In his demonstration, Mehdi showed how an MSN search could discover information located on a user’s local hard drive—even if that information is embedded in a spreadsheet located on a corporate e-mail server.

Microsoft has touted this kind of end-to-end search as a byproduct of the work it is doing to develop a new Windows file system, called WinFS. WinFS will debut first in Microsoft SQL Server 2005 (code-named “Yukon”) and later in Windows Longhorn, which is currently expected to ship in 2006. But on Thursday, Mehdi didn’t mention WinFS at all.

To read the full story, click here.