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Federated Search Features

Published: May 4, 2009

Updated: April 30, 2009

Applies To: Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2

Windows® 7 introduces support for federated search, using the OpenSearch protocol, which enables users to search remote data sources from within Windows Explorer. The goal of federated search is to enable data repositories like Microsoft Office SharePoint Server to expose their search capabilities through the Windows desktop, and thus provide more value to users. This topic covers the following:

Federated Search Overview

Features for Users

Search federation offers the following benefits to users:

  • Users can search for files and data from remote storage locations (like a SharePoint site or a network share) using the familiar Windows Explorer user interface. Users simply select the search connector location in the navigation pane or at the bottom of a previous search’s results, and enter their search query in the search box.

  • Search results are displayed in Windows Explorer and users can browse over them as if they were local data.

  • Files appear with the correct application icons and context menus which users can use to act on the search results.

  • Users can preview documents or web pages, see thumbnails of images, and drag and drop a file directly to the desktop or into an e-mail.

  • If users need to interact with their web-based data directly, Windows Explorer enables the user to rollover from Windows Explorer to the Web site.

  • Users can search for and open documents on remote storage locations from within any application that uses the common file dialog.

Features for Administrators

Windows 7 federated search enables administrators to do the following:

Create and deploy search connectors for data repositories.

Pin your organization’s search connectors to users’ Start menu or to the Search again links in Windows Explorer using the Pin Library and Search Connectors to the “Search again” links and the Start menu Group Policy.

To find out more about setting up federated search in your environment, see the Windows 7 Federated Search Provider Implementer’s Guide.

How Federated Search Works

Users can take advantage of federated search by selecting search connectors displayed in the Windows Explorer navigation pane and entering queries in the search box. A search connector is an XML file (*.searchConnector-ms) that stores information that enables Windows Explorer to connect to a remote storage location. The query is sent to the remote web service, which returns results as Atom or RSS feeds.

Then, Windows Explorer displays these results as if they were local file system items. The actual files don’t get moved over the wire until a user decides to open or preview a document. This keeps network traffic to minimum. With very little work, many of the repositories that organizations use to store searchable files can work with federated search.

There are three steps to getting your data store’s web service connected to Windows 7:

  1. Enable the data store to be searched from Windows using OpenSearch with RSS or Atom output.

  2. Create an .osdx file that describes how to connect to the web service and how to map any custom elements in your RSS or Atom XML.

  3. Deploy a search connector to Windows client machines using the .osdx file.

To find out more about setting up federated search in your environment, see the Windows 7 Federated Search Provider Implementer’s Guide.

Federated Search and Security

Federated search was designed for enterprises and with the constraints of working inside the firewalls of the corporate intranet, and thus is built on the Windows authentication stack. This means that any repository that has single sign-on integration works seamlessly (NTLM or Kerberos authentication, for example). This does, however, mean that forms-based authentication is not supported because that type of authentication is a custom implementation on the server side. There is some affordance to build support for a web service that requires forms-based authentication, but it does require custom client-side code.

Federated Search and Direct Access

Direct Access is a feature in Windows 7 that enables corporate computers (usually laptops) to access the corporate network at all times whenever connected to the Internet. Because Direct Access is transparent to the end-user, federated search works seamlessly over a direct access connection. Essentially, everything works normally as though users are on the corporate network.

Deploying Search Connectors

Simply opening a .osdx file creates a .searchconnector-ms file (a search connector file) in the %userprofile%\searches directory and places a shortcut (.lnk file) for the connector in the %userprofile%\links directory. This link appears under user favorites in the Windows Explorer navigation pane.

The process for adding a search connector to a user’s machine is essentially copying that file locally and exposing it to the user via a shortcut. See How to Deploy Search Connectors for Federated Search for information on push and pull deployment options and instructions.

Standards Support

Windows 7 supports a number of standards to provide a robust federated search solution.

 

For this type of standard: Windows supports:

For item data

  • RSS 2.0, 1.0, 0.91 and 0.92

  • Atom 0.3 and 1.0

  • MediaRSS content and thumbnail elements

For connection information

  • OpenSearch 1.1

For authentication

  • NTLM

  • Kerberos

  • Basic (only over https)

  • Plus any other Security Support Providers installed on the client and the server hosting the web service

Group Policies for Federated Search

Once the search connectors are deployed to the client machines as explained above, Group Policy can be used to pin search connectors to the Start Menu and the Windows Explorer Search again links. Note that deploying the files after setting the Group Policy causes a dead link to be pinned.

More information on Group Policies can be found in Group Policy for Windows Search, Browse, and Organize.

See Also

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