A Microsoft engineer has posted an unofficial add-on to Vista's desktop search that lets users set and use single-letter shortcuts to speed up web searches or even launch applications.

Brandon Paddock, a developer who works on search for the Windows team, created Start++ as a Vista counterpart to the Deskbar Shortcuts feature built into the Windows XP version of Windows Desktop Search.

In XP, Deskbar Shortcuts allowed users to go directly to a website; pull information from the site, such as a search results list; or quickly start a program or open a specific document by typing a keyword in the search box.

"Unfortunately, [Vista] lacks all of that fun shortcut functionality that the Deskbar had," Paddock said on his blog.

Start++, which can be customised by editing an XML file, launches a Google search for Courtney Love, for instance, using the string "g courtney love" in the Vista Start menu's search box.

The add-on is free, Paddock said, but he warned users that it is a work in progress. "This is kind of something I threw together, so it might still have some bugs," he said. "I'll probably add more to it when I get the time on weekends and such."

Start++ can be downloaded from Paddock's blog.