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Intellext Inc. is expanding the capabilities of Microsoft Corp.'s MSN Search Toolbar with a proactive research tool that delivers information from the web or the desktop, but doesn't capture any information from the user, which has been a source of criticism against Google Inc.
The Watson 2.0 add-in, released Friday by the Chicago-based company, contains algorithms that tries to determine helpful information based on what the person is writing in Microsoft Word or Excel, or what their checking out on Web pages in Internet Explorer or the Firefox browsers.
The tool, which is meant to lessen the need to launch a separate search, delivers the information from sources selected by the user, whether Web sites or desktop files, in a small strip that can be placed anywhere. The user can decide whether the sidebar is always in view or hidden.
"We've designed Watson to be very polite," Jay Budzik, chief technology officer for Intellext, said. "Our philosophy is the user is in control."
Control over personal information is what Intellext hopes will make its product more appealing to consumers than Google's search services. Privacy advocates have criticized the latter company for gathering and storing search history and other information from users. Google, however, says it does not share the information with third parties, and uses it primarily to help improve its services.
Nevertheless, Intellext believes people are concerned enough about privacy on the Web to consider its tool, which is sold on a subscription basis and is not supported by advertising. The add-in costs $9.95 a month or $99 a year.
"We think the privacy implications are so significant that we have an imperative to protect (customers)," Alan G. Wasserberger, chief executive for Intellext, said.
Ad revenue, however, could eventually contribute to Intellext's bottom line.
"We do see a day when partners will want to put ads in the Watson client, but when we do that, we'll do it in such a way where the customer's privacy is protected," Wasserberger said.
In launching the tool, Intellext wants to tap the millions of users of Microsoft's MSN Search Toolbar, which includes desktop search and other capabilities. Rivals Yahoo Inc. and Google offer similar toolbars.
The interest in desktop search among the portal giants stems from the fact that most people looking to buy or research products on the web use multiple search engines, analysts say. Tying a person's PC to a shopping and entertainment portal through a desktop-search engine makes it more likely a shopper will start with that site.