Microsoft took its desktop search tool out of beta testing this week and released the live version.

But the move represents only the latest move in the company's continual quest to keep on the cutting edge in a wide range of OS features and functions.

"They have to keep of with lots of Joneses," said Yankee Group's Laura DiDio.

"They're never going to be the cheapest operating system, so they want to be the best of breed."

Microsoft runs over 90 percent of the desktop personal computers in the world, so one might wonder which Joneses it sees as competition. Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL - news) new release of its OS X operating system -- Tiger -- is one, argued DiDio.

One of Tiger's most touted features is its desktop search function.

This puts a competing operating system in the same boat as Windows -- trying to catch the Googles of the world as they release better and more powerful desktop search utilities that the operating system vendors have failed to build and include in their platforms.

Will They Stay or Go?

In addition to Google, a host of other niche players have entered the desktop search fray. The function has evolved from "something of a novelty to a requirement," said DiDio.

"The game here is to sell Windows on features," she noted. "They're trying to be as ubiquitous as they possibly can and then give people reasons to stay rather than switch."

Customers do not need an impetus to stay with Windows, argued DiDio. But other companies are trying to offer them motivations to go, and that is where Microsoft cannot afford to let other desktop search vendors -- be they operating-system makers or search-engine companies -- get the best of it.

In addition, there is a battle looming in the Asia-Pacific market, DiDio noted. In that region, operating-system decisions are much more fluid than they are in markets where network infrastructures are more established.

"This is much more a green-field situation," she said, which means that Microsoft must compete on a feature-by-feature basis with each new installation or network.