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Windows Search 4.0 and Seaport.Exe - Too Much For Too Little?

written by: Brian Nelson•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 5/4/2009

Windows Search 4.0 has been touted by Microsoft as a screaming fast way desktop search client, but does that speed come at a cost too high for its value? And what does it have to do with seaport.exe?

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    Windows Search 4.0 and Seaport.exe System Resource Usage

    Windows Search 4.0 was originally included with the Windows Vista operating system and then later made available as an optional download for Windows XP. Seen largely as both an update to an antiqued search utility first delivered with Windows XP back in 19XX, and as a defense against the encroachment of Google’s Desktop client, Search 4.0 was still mostly lost in the hubbub surrounding the short comings of Windows Vista. But, now with the upcoming release of Windows 7, users can expect the underlying technologies of Search 4.0 to come standard on the new operating system. For users with well organized files, this may not be good news.

    Microsoft recommends 500 MB of hard drive space as a minimum for storing the search index. However, estimates are that approximately 10% of the file size indexed will actually be required. With hard drives in new PCs with 300 GB to 500 GB being no big deal, that can be a lot of disk space eaten up by the index. What’s more, creating and maintaining that index takes memory and processor power. Microsoft recommends 512 MB of RAM just to install Search 4.0. How much it actually uses depends on your system and how much of your drive you choose to index.

    Windows XP users who also use Windows Live software were treated to an unpleasant surprise recently when the Live update contained an undisclosed automatic boot-time process called Seaport that runs continuously in the background. It turns out that the seaport.exe process is used to detect and download updates to undisclosed “advanced search processes” which sound an awful lot like a Search 4.0 for applications. This even occurred to users who have not installed the options Search 4.0 update on their Windows XP systems

    Considering the extensive effort many users put into making their Windows XP systems boot faster and run faster, yet another program in the long list of required programs, and another 4,000K or so of RAM drained away by a process whose only function is to fetch updates is an unwelcome detriment to those efforts.

    For the user who has solid file and email organization, or who already has other programs or utilities to handle tagging, organizing, and searching, Search 4.0 might be a big waste of resources. Indeed, a computer user who is happily running Google Desktop, or the highly rated Copernic Desktop Search, for example, will still be subject to the extraneous overhead of Search 4.0 despite not needing the features. These users might be the biggest losers because Google Desktop isn’t exactly lightweight, either, and with two search and indexing services doubling up on ever file save and access, things are likely to be less than optimal.

    One can’t help but wonder if Microsoft’s Windows Search 4.0 comes with a duplicate content penalty considering that Search 4.0 is a virtual duplicate of the functionality in Google Desktop. Users may have been on the losing end of the decision of whether to provide a more streamlined, faster, operating system or to include yet another “integral” utility full of processes that will actually make the computer slower 100% of the time for a function that the average user engages less than 1% of the time.

    Fortunately, one of the features Microsoft has announced for Windows 7 will be the ability to shut off those annoying systems and high overhead “features” that are of no use to a particular user instead of users just having to put up with the myriad of services and process that are turned on by default in order to satisfy some generic computer user’s most common needs.

    In the end, search within applications seems to be cleaner and more efficient, but if users muddle their information consistently then something like Windows Search 4.0 can bail them out, even if the cost is a constant degradation of performance.