When I first saw the default search pane in Windows XP, my instinct was to return it to its classic look; that puppy had to go. Of course, I later discovered that a doggie door is built into the applet. Click "Change preferences" then "Without an animated screen character." If you'd rather give it a bare-bones "Windows 2000" look and feel, fire up your Registry editor and navigate to:
HKEY_CURRENT_USER \ Software \ Microsoft \ Windows \ CurrentVersion \ Explorer \ CabinetState.
You may need to create a new string value labeled "Use Search Asst" and set it to "no".