Microsoft has released a new showcase of its Silverlight web development frameworks, a graphical search engine called Tafiti. Tafiti, which means “do research” in Swahili, is an experimental frontend to Microsoft’s Live Search engine. It presents search options in three panes on the screen: the left pane is for entering search queries and switching between image, RSS, Web, and News, the middle pane contains the search results, and the right pane is used to “dock” results using drag-and-drop for looking at later.
To run the Tafiti web application, you must first download and install Silverlight. Silverlight runs on Windows XP SP2 or Windows Vista and Mac OS X 10.4.8 or higher. A Linux version of Silverlight is being worked on by Mono developer Miguel de Icaza but is not yet available.
The installation is a one-time-only affair, with the default setting to update Silverlight automatically in the background when new releases come out—a good thing since the Silverlight frameworks themselves are still in beta. Once installed, a browser restart is required, and then the Tafiti site will run. Tafiti runs on Internet Explorer 6 or 7, Firefox 2.x, and Safari 2.x, but it will not work on Opera or the new Safari 3 beta. I had some problems with Tafiti not rendering search results on Firefox 220.127.116.11, but others have reported no difficulties.
The user interface
Tafiti is intended as a demonstration of the power of rich web technologies, and in that it succeeds. The screens make good use of graphics and animation, making web searching feel a bit more like the mythical operating system that people use in movies. The search box looks like an old piece of lined paper, and past searches stack up behind new ones. There is also a “tree” view that shows a bunch of web results in a three-dimensional tree format, but it is awkward to use and, apart from looking good, doesn’t seem to be that useful. As mentioned, search results can be saved by dragging them onto the right-hand “shelf” for quick access later, even after a browser restart.
But what is it good for?
Ultimately, Tafiti is a “showcase” application for new Microsoft development technologies, much like the picture viewing and sharing program Microsoft Codename Max was for the .NET frameworks. Bugs aside, I cannot foresee myself using Tafiti for regular searching, simply because all the animation and eye-candy get in the way of the results, which are what people do searches for in the first place. As innovative as the application is, it doesn’t seem to add anything useful to the actual act of searching, with the exception of saving searches in the shelf for later access.
Still, it is an impressive demonstration of what web-based applications are likely to look like in the near future. One can only hope that web developers do not overdose on the eye-candy and forget that ultimately, web sites are about speed, ease of use, and functionality.