Friday, October 15, 2004

Googling your PC just like the web

Yesterday Google released the beta version of its Google Desktop Search tool. It's available as a free download here. When you first install the tool, it sets about indexing every file on your system. In my case, that took nearly a day. Indexing takes place only while your computer is idle, and involves spidering the contents of each and every file it can get into -- including e-mails, documents, spreadsheets, databases, Instant Messages, images, and system files.

Once your drive has been indexed, Google Desktop Search searches all of the files on your computer in the same way that Google searches the web. Just enter the search term and click the button, and instantly a listing that looks remarkably like a web search results page lists all of the files on your system that contain that term. No more frustrations trying to get Explorer to find a document (or was it a spreadsheet, or maybe an e-mail?) that you last used months ago. It's brilliant.

There have been other desktop search tools, of course, but this is the big league and, if you are a regular Google user, it feels comfortable. And it does something that other desktop search tools don't do: it integrates your desktop search with your web search. If you search for a term on the web, a summary link to all of the files already on your computer containing that term appears at the top of the list.

What's more, Google Desktop will search all of your previously viewed web pages, and show you thumbnails of the relevant matches.

Amazon.com's A9 and AskJeeves recently launched personalized search features that let you store viewed web pages for future reference, but unlike Google Desktop, they don't do it automatically. I prefer the A9 system, because I try to keep my system as clean as possible, and purge history files, cookies and so on daily. That means Google Desktop is never going to find past-viewed pages; A9 keeps its own folder of only those pages you specifically ask it to save. But combine Google Desktop Search with LookSmart's Furl, and you get the best of both worlds.

Google's Desktop Search does not serve up ads, and if their privacy policy does not change, in-context ads will not be possible. Google does not feed any data about the contents of your desktop, or any personal data that you do not authorize, back to its systems.

Yet.

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