Google’s Latest Desktop Search Released

Google is releasing Google Desktop 2, the latest version of its desktop search product, increasing the stakes against Yahoo’s personalization features and Microsoft Windows search.

Tagging along is an intelligent RSS reader that automatically adds feeds and learns over time.

When users install Google Desktop Search 2, they also get the Sidebar application, a long skinny box that can be docked to either side of the screen, resized or minimized.

Panels in the sidebar are automatically updated with content from the Web. The News panel delivers news clips, while a Web Clips panel subscribes users to RSS feeds based on the Web sites they’ve visited.

Google RSS-enabled
its Google News service earlier this month.

In fact, the Sidebar represents a unified method for accessing content on the desktop and online, offering a new model for handling files.

“We’ve built a platform that lets people sit back and watch the Web come to them,” said Nikhil Bhatla, product manager for Google Desktop. The new release includes a software developer’s toolkit that lets third-party developers write plug-ins to display information.

“Sidebar is automatically personalized based on what you do on the computer,” said Bhatla. “It uses RSS techniques to actually show you articles from Web pages. For example, if you visit a friend’s blog, it will automatically add that RSS feed to the panel.”

While in the short term, this could lead to a 1,000-item subscription list, Bhatla said over time the application would trim them back, eliminating ones that were never clicked on. They can also be deleted manually.

Click here to see a larger view of the Desktop Search Tool
When the application is first installed, the initial feed subscriptions, or Web Clips, are based on Web sites stored in the browser cache. The cache also is used to make a guess about users’ locations, in order to personalize the Weather panel.

Bhatla said that the Sidebar is designed to introduce novices to Web feeds automatically. In order to automatically personalize the content, it leverages the Google Desktop 2 index, which is why the company delivered them together.

“We wanted to make it work well for all types of people, both novices and advanced users,” Bhatla said. “Novices won’t go in and configure the Sidebar, so automatic personalization was important for them. In order to do that, the Sidebar builds on top of the index that Google Desktop Search makes. That’s why we put the two together.”

Another nod to the blogosphere is the Sidebar’s What’s Hot panel, which delivers the headlines of popular blog posts. Users can click on a headline to read a snippet, then click again to be taken to the post on the Web.
There also are panels for photos, which can pull down feeds from Google’s Flickr photo-sharing service, as well as Web sites visited, and current stock prices.

At the bottom of the Sidebar is a Quick Find search box that lets users search the desktop, then, by clicking a button, extend the search to the Web. By searching on the name of an application, that application can be launched by clicking on its icon in the search results.

“We’re enabling people to search from within any application without having to go to the browser,” Bhatla said. “We think of Sidebar search as a universal way to get information at all times.”

Google Desktop 2 also adds an Outlook-specific search bar to Microsoft’s e-mail application. The new version adds the ability to search through all Outlook content, such as contacts, the calendar and the journal.

If users choose to hide the Sidebar, they can use Google Desktop search from a bar in the Windows taskbar, or they can use the browser interface.
They can easily modify the contents of the index. Clicking on a “remove from index” button adds checkboxes to each item; users click on boxes of items, then click the “remove” button to delete them from the index.

A pause button lets users stop the indexing process for 15 minutes to avoid stalls when they’ve just stopped to think for a moment. They also can sever the desktop search from Web search by setting preferences, so that desktop results no longer appear at the top of results from a Web search.

Users can sort results by date or by relevance. Bhatla said that the tool is based on Google’s Web search algorithms, although page rank isn’t as important as it is for Web search. He wouldn’t discuss techniques for determining the relevance of desktop search results.

Users can now search network drives or limit searches to specific drives and folders. And they can choose to encrypt the index. Google caught flack from analysts when it released
its first beta desktop search offering in October 2004. Analysts warned that the index might be vulnerable to peeping.

The desktop search tool can be configured to index Google’s free e-mail service, Gmail, when the user is connected — even if not logged into Gmail.

If users want this feature, they fill in their usernames and passwords during configuration so that e-mail can be accessed and indexed automatically. Users then can search their Gmail when they’re offline. Because all information is cached on the hard drive, they also can use Google Desktop Search 2 to retrieve copies of accidentally deleted or corrupted files.

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