Microsoft has launched a new version of its MSN Toolbar in the US. It has a built-in search facility that lets PC users find files on their own computers in the same way they can search the internet for information. A global roll-out is planned for next year.
The toolbar – the area at the top of the browser window where control buttons such as back, forward and refresh are usually found – has become hot property for internet companies. Increasingly, marketers are being offered the chance to create customised, branded versions that users download. For example, film distributor UIP has used branded toolbars in the online campaigns for the UK launches of films such as Thunderbirds and Shark Tales. But the rise of branded toolbars means companies such as MSN or Google are losing control of the toolbar, which enables them to direct internet users to their own sites or those belonging to advertisers.
The toolbar has therefore become the battleground for a power struggle, with companies adding extra functions to keep internet users loyal. Google has recently launched software for searching PCs, while Yahoo!, AOL and Ask Jeeves are all expected to add the function soon.
The search facility included in the new MSN Toolbar only allows users to look for files on their own PC, whereas the Google search software lets users also search pages they have recently visited on the Net. But MSN’s PC search lets users perform a keyword search in documents, e-mails, pictures and other files in various MSN programs, such as Outlook.
But however much functionality companies such as MSN and Google build into their toolbars, the use of branded toolbars is likely to grow. Indeed, one company, United Virtualities, has developed a technology – Ooqa Ooqa – that makes it easy to create branded toolbars and sell them as if they were advertising space (MW September 30). Ooqa Ooqa enables marketers to tailor the browser, for example by offering news feeds, music and video downloads or share-price information. Advertisers are also able to include data-capture mechanisms.