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October 14, 2004

Google Desktop Search -- Finally, I can find my files!

By Charlene Li

I've been running Google Desktop Search (DS) for the past two days and I love it! It’s always struck me as ironic that it’s easier to shift through four billion Web files than to find a single file on your local drive. Well, those days are over.

I’ll be publishing a brief about the overall implications of what this means on Forrester’s Web site later today – I’ll add a link when it’s available. In the meantime, here’s a quick overview of why I love this new product:

1) I can find my files quickly and easily. On my very first search, I was stunned by how quickly DS returned results -- I've used other desktop programs from Copernic, X1, and blinkx, which are all effective at finding files. But in the case of Copernic and X1, I have to first choose which type of file I want to find and then enter my query, while blinkx requires me to open up its client to do a search. With DS, I can find all of the relevant files and then narrow down by file type with a click, if needed. While I sometimes still have to resort to using Windows Explorer when I can’t find a file, I no longer dread having to locate files.

2) Desktop search is integrated into Web search. This took me a while to figure out – once I download the DS client, whenever I go to the Google home page a new tab for “Desktop” gets inserted. This means I can initiate a desktop search directly from the Google home page. Moreover, when I conduct a regular Web search, the top two desktop search results appear at the top above the Web search results. This is exactly what happens when I do search from Toolbar and Deskbar as well.

3) I have a “personalized” copy of the Web on my hard drive. Because DS caches Web pages viewed in IE (but unfortunately, not those viewed in Firefox, which I’m testing), I can quickly find pages that I’ve viewed in the past. So rather than repeat a laborious Web search again, I can just do a desktop search for the term and locate the page. Compare this the personalized search offerings from Yahoo!, A9.com, and Ask Jeeves which requires that I manually save bookmarks to be able to search a customized index. In one fell swoop, Google launched not only desktop search, but also snuck in a pseudo-version of personalized search!

Google does a good job addressing obvious privacy concerns – a stark difference from its Gmail launch. Google gives users a great deal of control over what DS indexes – you can even turn it off for 15 minutes or completely. All of the information remains on your hard drive, even when DS results are integrated into Web search results. I realized that the index is essentially a record of everything someone does on their desktop – and in the “court of law” becomes discoverable. Fortunately, I don’t routinely do illegal or even embarrassing things on my computer so this isn’t something that I’m overly concerned about. But if I were…I definitely wouldn’t be using DS!

Paid search ads do appear next to Web results – and by default, next to DS results that appear above the Web results. Google doesn’t show ads next to the full DS search results – but even if they did, I wouldn’t bother me. That’s because I know that the ads are shown based on the keywords of my query, not based on the content of the search results themselves. In their briefing, Google said that the business value of DS is that it drives greater usage of regular Web searching, but in my opinion, I think they should also be testing how consumers feel about having ads appear next to DS search results. In most cases, I think users won’t mind as they’ll either occasionally find them relevant and click – or ignore just as they do ads that appear on Web pages.


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Jared Evans

Try the Slogger extension for Firefox to have the webpages you browse while using Firefox to show up in Google Desktop Search!

Slogger can also be used if you have a laptop and want to browse saved pages offline (by rapidly visiting the links before you disconnect from the internet)

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