Strategies for Successful Development

Process and technology for small teams building real software

Custom searches in your toolbar. Or, Desktop tools mashup, too.

Posted by S4SD (Seth Morris) on 2008/09/10

When I saw Windows Live Search Macros only a few hours after finishing a writeup for a client on the new search provider features in IE8b2, I was pretty excited.

If you don’t know Live Search Macros (I certainly didn’t), they are pretty simple. You go to http://search.live.com/macros/ and build a search string to modify search results. You can use all the operators available on Windows Live, such as filetype, hasfeed, contains, language, site, and the all-important prefer. If you save the results, you can go back to a page created for you to run a Windows Live search with those modifiers already added.

For example, http://search.live.com/macros/andyed/scifi/?FORM=MACWLG presents a Windows Live search screen that restricts results to several popular science fiction sites. And on each of these pages you get the little orange arrow that indicates you can add a new search provider.

This is all very nice, but you don’t need that to make a Windows Live Search Macro to get a custom search provider that does this, and you can use any search engine (including site-specific engines like Amazon or IMDB) and any syntax that engine supports.

Let’s say I often search for information on a .NET programming concept or term. I know searching on “select” alone won’t give me very useful results, even if I use a categorizing search engine. I need to give the engine some more context, so I add terms that aren’t specific to my query, but instead are general to my query domain. This is exactly what we shouldn’t have to do.

I probably use a search like .NET C# (WinForms or LINQ) +select 

This is the same problem Windows Live Search Macros were created to solve, but I don’t want to go to a web page every time I do it (and maintain a list of these pages) and I also don’t want to be restricted to Windows Live Search.

So let’s solve the problem on the desktop using IE7 (or IE8). Click arrow by the search box and select Find More Providers…. You will be taken to this page, with a list of companies that have convinced Microsoft to surface them and a box to create your own provider. What isn’t obvious is that the search string you use to create a provider doesn’t have to be minimal: any legal search string for your search engine of choice will work, as long as the MS website can find the word TEST in it.

So I go to a search engine, let’s say www.clusty.com, and enter the domain-specifying query I use often enough to want to automate. automate. I get this url: http://clusty.com/search?input-form=clusty-simple&v%3Asources=webplus&query=%22.NET%22+%22C%23%22+%28WinForms+OR+LINQ%29+%2BTEST.

By putting that into box 3 of the form naming it “General C# Search” I have a search provider on my drop-down that does what I want.

It isn’t any better than the Windows Live Search Macros, other than letting me choose my search engine and it let me get into the details a little bit and feel like all the moving parts were under my control. And sometimes, that’s enough.

 


Listening to: Laurie Anderson – Strange Angels – The Day The Devil

 

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