Google Inc. made a much anticipated move toward what many consider the newest frontier in the digital information search sector by announcing Thursday it is offering a test version of an application designed to let users search for information stored on their desktop computers.
Google Desktop Search will let users search for information stored in their PC files, local e-mail inboxes, archived chat sessions and list of Web sites visited, Google said.
Considerable progress has been made in recent years in Internet search, as sites from companies such as Google, Ask Jeeves Inc. and Yahoo Inc. improved their technology to index more content and deliver more relevant results. But finding information in users' desktop PCs has been a problem, as tools to do this have been scarce and inefficient. Providing better desktop search tools has been identified recently as a priority by a variety of players, including Google and Microsoft Corp.
"I think between now and the end of the year, we'll see things really heat up at Microsoft in this space, around everything having to do with search. I have a feeling they'll come on really strong in this fourth quarter, which will make it a real dogfight. This will without question accelerate Microsoft's timetable," said Allen Weiner, a Gartner Inc. analyst.
Although there are companies that already provide desktop search tools, Google now rises to the top of the pile by virtue of the volume of users it commands, Weiner said. "You have to put Google in the lead by sheer numbers. Their position in the marketplace puts them ahead by default because of the number of users they have."
This is a good, although not earth-shattering, first step for Google in the desktop search area, Weiner said. Ultimately, the goal in search is to provide a seamless experience for users across the variety of content tanks that exist, of which the desktop is one, and that is what will determine the success of companies in this space, he said. "It's all about integration and usability," he said.
Google Desktop Search can be downloaded for free from http://www.desktop.google.com/. The application can search for information stored in users' Outlook and Outlook Express e-mail applications from Microsoft, in Microsoft Office files from applications such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint, in the list of visited Web sites kept in Microsoft's Internet Explorer and across stored instant message chat sessions from America Online Inc.'s AIM service.
Google Desktop Search is also integrated with the Google.com Internet search engine, so that queries run through Google.com are also run simultaneously in a user's Google Desktop Search application. Results from Google Desktop Search are added to the Google.com results.
However, for the sake of privacy, the desktop results aren't made available to Google.com without the user's permission, said Google, which is based in Mountain View, California. Users can also configure Google Desktop Search to search certain files and not others.
Google Desktop Search has been designed to refresh its index of local desktop files continuously, instead of for example once every day, so that it can search e-mail messages seconds after they are received and files seconds after they are created, Google said.