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Search Companion and Internet Communication

Applies To: Windows Server 2003 with SP1

This section provides information about:

  • The benefits of Search Companion

  • How Search Companion communicates with sites on the Internet

  • How to control Search Companion to prevent the flow of information to and from the Internet

Benefits and Purposes of Search Companion

The Microsoft Search Companion Web service enables you to search for files and folders on your computer, to search for files, people, and other computers on your internal network, and to search for information on the Internet. Search Companion uses Indexing Service to maintain an index of all the files on the computer, making searches faster.

When employing Search Companion, you can specify several search criteria. For example, you can search for files and folders by name, type, or size. You can find files based on when they were last modified, or search for files containing specific text. When searching for information on the Internet, Search Companion enables you to enter search queries in natural language (meaning informal, or conversational language). It then suggests the best way to conduct the search, and sends the query to Internet services that are most likely to yield positive results.

Overview: Using Search Companion in a Managed Environment

When you search the Internet using Search Companion, the following information is collected:

  • The text of the Internet search query

  • Grammatical information about the query

  • The list of tasks (suggestions) that the Search Companion Web service recommends to refine the search

  • Any tasks you selected from the recommendation list

Search Companion does not collect:

  • Personal information, such as user name or e-mail address

  • Demographic information

Microsoft does not use the information it collects to identify you individually or associate such information with other data sources that may contain personal data. Microsoft does not collect information when you search on the local system, LAN, or intranet.

The Search Companion Web service is designed to upgrade automatically as new features become available. It therefore uses the Internet connection periodically to check for and replace necessary files. You can use Group Policy to prevent the Search Companion Web service from upgrading automatically from the Internet.

If you want to disable the Search Companion Web service, you can do so by changing to Classic Search for the Internet. Microsoft Windows does not collect any query information when Classic Search is used. You can also disable Search Companion (change to Classic Search) by modifying the registry settings. The procedures for both of these methods are described later in this section of the white paper.

How Search Companion Communicates with Sites on the Internet

Search Companion in Microsoft Windows Server 2003 improves the search process by consolidating search tasks, optimizing searches for the most common scenarios, and offering suggestions for refining the search.

The form that collects search criteria will post information to an ASP page that displays the search results. The search pages use a combination of XML and Microsoft Visual Basic® development system, Scripting Edition (VBScript) and Microsoft JScript® development software for accessing the search objects. Because the script is run on the server, you can view the search pages from any browser.

Search Companion uses XML files to define both the user interface and some functional parameters of its tasks (for example, what list of file extensions constitutes the "Music" category of files). The first time in each Search Companion session that an XML file is referenced, by default, Search Companion checks to see if a later version of that XML file is available from sa.windows.com. The "check" is really a file download request, conditioned on the modified date of the file. If there is a later version of the XML file, Search Companion downloads it and replaces the earlier version. The XML files are located in a language-specific subfolder of systemroot\Srchasst\, and if the current user does not have administrative credentials, the old XML file cannot be overwritten. The downloading of these XML files can be prevented through Group Policy.

This subsection describes various aspects of the data that is sent to and from the Internet through Search Companion, and how the exchange of information takes place:

  • Specific information sent or received: When you search the Internet using Search Companion, the following information is collected regarding your use of the service: the text of your Internet search query, grammatical information about the query, the list of tasks that the Search Companion Web service recommends, and any tasks you select from the recommendation list.

  • Default and recommended settings: Search Companion is enabled by default.

  • Triggers: The user selects Start\Search and uses search options to search the Internet. The user can also start Internet Explorer and use a toolbar button, shortcut key, or menu to search the Internet.

  • User notification: There is no provision in Search Companion for user review or notification of data sent.

  • Uniquely identify users: The user is not uniquely identified. Session-based cookies are used to maintain state information, but these randomly assigned GUIDs do not persist across browser sessions.

  • Logging: No information is collected when you search your local system, LAN, or intranet. The only "storage" is the Internet Information Services (IIS) log of the file request on the server at Microsoft that provides the Search Companion Web service. Search Companion does not record your choice of Internet search engines, and it does not collect or request any demographic information or personal information (such as user name or e-mail address).

  • Encryption: There is no encryption of data.

  • Access: No user information is collected. The IIS logs (described in the "Logging" item, earlier in this list) are cycled annually, that is, logs are retained for twelve months, and discarded in the thirteenth month following collection.

  • Privacy: The privacy statement is located at the following Web site:

    http://sa.windows.com/privacy/

  • Transmission protocol and port: The transmission protocol is HTTP and the port is 80.

  • Ability to disable: The feature can be disabled by changing to Classic Search.

Controlling Search Companion to Prevent the Flow of Information to and from the Internet

You can disable the Search Companion Web service by changing preferences to Classic Search for the Internet. You can also disable Search Companion by changing the registry settings manually. In addition, you can prevent Search Companion from checking for and downloading updated versions of the XML files that it uses. Procedures for all of these approaches are provided in the following subsection.

Procedures for Configuration of Search Companion

Search Companion can be configured in several ways as described previously.

To Change to Classic Search for the Internet through the User Interface

  1. Click Start, and then either click Search, or point to Search and click On the Internet.

  2. Click Change preferences.

  3. Click Change Internet search behavior.

  4. Click With classic Internet search and click OK.

  5. On the File menu, click Close.

The next Internet search you perform will use the preference you specified.

To Change to Classic Search for the Internet Through the Registry Key

  1. Close Internet Explorer (all instances).

  2. Open Registry Editor by clicking Start, clicking Run, and then typing regedit.

    CautionCaution
    Incorrectly editing the registry may severely damage your system. Before making changes to the registry, you should back up any valued data on the computer. You can also use the Last Known Good Configuration startup option if you encounter problems after manual changes have been applied.

  3. Navigate to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Main.

  4. Look for an entry called Use Search Asst. If it exists, skip to step 7.

  5. On the Edit menu, point to New, and then click String value.

  6. Type Use Search Asst as the name for the new value (the type is REG_SZ), and then press ENTER.

  7. Click Use Search Asst, and then on the Edit menu, click Modify.

  8. For Value data, type:

    no

    noteNote
    Type the entry and value exactly as shown, including spaces and capitalization.

To Prevent Search Companion from Downloading Updated Versions of the XML Files That It Uses

  1. See Appendix B: Resources for Learning About Group Policy, for information about using Group Policy. Ensure that your Administrative templates have been updated, and then edit an appropriate GPO.

  2. Click Computer Configuration, click Administrative Templates, click System, click Internet Communication Management, and then click Internet Communication settings.

  3. In the details pane, double-click Turn off Search Companion content file updates, and then click Enabled.

    ImportantImportant
    You can also restrict Internet access for this and a number of other components by applying the Restrict Internet communication policy setting, which is located in Computer Configuration/Administrative Templates/System/Internet Communication Management. For more information about this Group Policy and the policies that it controls, see Appendix C: Group Policy Settings Listed Under the Internet Communication Management Key.

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