Federated search is a common term in big business, with its billions of items of data, but now it comes to the personal desktop, courtesy of Windows 7
In the early days of Windows we knew where everything was; text documents and Quattro Pro spreadsheets, some scans of photographs that ate up your valuable hard disk space, perhaps some home made MIDI files. Now though, we all seem to have gigabytes of photos, endless amounts of music and more documents crammed in every folder on the desktop, and more data is being stored remotely on numerous web sites. Finding it all is an ever-increasing struggle and one that will only get worse.
Federated search does away with this problem by not caring where your data is stored, it queries each database and repository for your search terms and produces the results in a uniform manner, just as if, for example, you were looking for "good chilli recipes"
on Google. Windows 7 makes use of this approach, using Amazon's OpenSearch 1.1
as a foundation, to find files, text in a document, images with a certain person in them, music by an artist, posts on a blog topic and anything else you might need to track down. The techniques come from business search development, looking at the metadata associated with each file, and should be a welcome addition for all Windows users, particularly those who leave files lying around.
Federated search comes from the world of big business
The Engineering Windows 7 blog
explains how Microsoft has developed the Homegroup and Libraries for the simple stuff but how it uses federated search for when you need to cast a wider net and some of the neat tricks that result from their efforts, such as, "Windows Photo Viewer has
added support for non-file items. So if you open a picture result in
the built-in photo viewer, it’s the photo viewer that downloads the
item, not Explorer. This may not seem like a big deal, but it lets the
photo viewer enable the forward and back buttons to jump to the next or
previous result – and it will download that image on-demand. Starting
at the PDC we began reaching out to third-party ISVs to encourage them
to implement similar enhancements for Federated Search scenarios, and
we will continue to offer guidance on how to best integrate with all of
the newest Explorer features."
Federated search requires a lot of effort on the part of Windows and any services that it queries, but this all goes on unseen, like water birds paddling, elegant and graceful when seen from above, masking their little legs going ferociously under the water. The blog makes an interesting read for anyone who wants to see where the future of search is going.