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There isn't a search engine or web service these days that doesn't have a bolt-on Toolbar or Explorer Bar for Internet Explorer offering instant access to searches or messaging.

Unless you own a 25-inch screen we don't recommend installing and activating all of them at the same time, as they demand a lot of real estate. Most of them offer much of the same anyway: a search bar, a pop-up filter and a highlight viewer.

Yesterday, Lycos Hotbot joined the fray with its combined Explorer Bar/Toolbar, the first ever with a RSS reader. It allows users to choose from hundreds of included RSS newsfeeds. You can add custom RSS feeds or subscriber-based feeds, although the stepped-up security default ActiveX settings of Windows XP Service Pack 2 does seem to make that a daunting task.

The Hotbot Desktop boasts another feature that no other search Toolbar has, so far: it will index and search all of your Outlook and Outlook Express e-mail and files in Microsoft Office, .pdf, and most text-based formats, much in the same way a freebee program called Altavista Discovery did a couple of years ago.

Another Desktop program that we really do recommend is a freebee called Desktop Sidebar. It is a replica of the combined desktop and Web-search offering Microsoft is planning to add to it Longhorn OS. That operating system, however, won't be ready until man has landed on Mars.

Fortunately, the Desktop Sidebar is an excellent replacement. It assembles all essential information into a slim window that docks at the side of the screen. The bar displays emails, appointments, tasks and notes (straight from Outlook), Messenger contacts, stock quotes and weather forecasts. The program also lets you monitor your PC's performance and disk space and you can control Windows Media Player or WinAmp from the Sidebar. Even Google is only one key click (Win+Q) away.

This utility too has a nifty RSS reader, one of the best we've seen so far, as it runs in a nicely animated carousel mode. The Newsroom panel also integrates with Internet Explorer, so you can subscribe to news feeds from pages displayed in the browser with one button click. We're proud to say that the Desktop Sidebar comes included with The Register RSS feed.

Since we've installed it, this Sidebar has become an indispensable tool; but if you're fed up with it, just push the hide button in the Windows taskbar and it moves elegantly to the side. ®

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