Sunday, October 24, 2004

Google Desktop Search tool info

Google recently released their new Google Desktop Search. I've been using the program since its release and I really like it. It indexes all the files on your computer and allows you to search the whole hard drive extremely quickly. It's really nice to be able to do internet-style quick searches for specific words in all your word docs, email, AIM conversations, and web history. Whenever you want to recall some blog post or article you've seen you can just type in a keyword and find it in seconds.

[All the quoted bits in this post are from the WaPo articles linked to at the end of the post.] Google Desktop Search -

...not only indexes the full text of e-mail messages and word processing documents, but also gives people the option of creating a searchable archive of all Web pages they visit and all instant messages they send and receive with AOL software...

Google's new product is "very, very good," said Danny Sullivan, editor of, an online newsletter that tracks the search engine industry. Sullivan said he has been testing Google's search tool and found one of its most useful features to be the way that it stored a copy of all the pages he visited online and then made that personal Web surfing history available to him.

The WaPo reviews the new service in today's paper in which they call it "another free program that fixes [a] glaring weakness of Windows: its woeful file-searching capabilities." The reviewer has had a similar experience to my own:

This indexing has yet to have any detectable effect on the performance of two PCs I've put Google Desktop on, despite its ludicrous speed. New e-mails turned up in Google Desktop's search results within six minutes of their arrival, and freshly viewed Web pages were indexed even faster, within about 10 seconds.

Since Google Desktop's index is updated so often, it also tracks changes to text and Microsoft Office files. Click a file's name in a Google Desktop window to open that file in whatever program created it; click the "cached" link to view older versions within your browser window. Only the text of them appears, which works fine for most Word and text documents; Excel and PowerPoint files, however, usually look like gibberish without their formatting and graphics.

But as usual there are some privacy concerns similar to those that were all the rage to worry about when Gmail came out -

One thing to watch for, if you share a computer with other people: Google Desktop's searches will encompass everyone's data unless you adjust its preferences to exclude it from some folders or file types. Likewise, if you see Google Desktop running on a computer you're about to borrow, you'd be wise to click its taskbar icon (a rainbow-colored swirl) and select "pause indexing" to stop it from tracking your own use.
But as usual, some people are more worried about loss of privacy than others -

...the omniscient-seeming search engine Google bested itself by announcing a service to probe for information both online and in your own machine. One company official called it a "photographic memory for your computer."

Google says no personal information will be sent back to the company. But if it feels like you can't do anything these days without someone looking over your shoulder, you're not just paranoid..."It's important," Brin said, "to remain calm."
Since this indexing/uploading of hard drive information is really the only reason to think twice about downloading the Google Desktop Search program, here's what one WaPo writer had to say about the privacy issue:

Once the Google search technology is installed for free on a personal computer, it will transmit basic data daily about usage patterns. For example, it will tell the company how often Google is being used to search personal computers, how often it is used to search the Web, and how often simultaneous searches are done. Google lets users opt out of sending some usage data, but not all of it.

However, Mayer said the data collected will be aggregated so that the company knows where to focus its efforts on upgrading the search technology. She emphasized that the daily up-loading will not transmit any personal information to Google and said it is typical for major software programs that offer voluntary upgrades and fixes for bugs to capture that sort of information as a matter of routine.

"This is the most personal information Google has ever dealt with," Mayer said of the new desktop search technology. "We take user privacy and user trust very seriously. And we have throughout the entire development of this product."

To enable users to maintain the confidentiality of files on their personal computers, or to permit them to keep their Web surfing destinations a secret, the new desktop search tool lets people block it from archiving visits to specific Internet sites, or from accessing private or confidential information stored on a P.C. In addition, there is a 15-minute snooze bar that allows a user to temporarily turn the archiving feature off if, for example, someone wants to do online shopping for a family member or friend and keep it a secret.

Gary Price, a search specialist who runs a Web reference site called, noted that the new archiving capability could raise privacy issues by making it easier for people to search and find material on other people's computers when they step away from their desks. That could be troubling in the workplace where people often leave their desks unattended, he said: "In a couple of minutes, people can search your entire computer and find anything in any one of your documents."
So the main concern appears to be people in your home or business misusing the program to snoop on you, not Google itself misusing the info. So, I guess in the end it depends how concerned you are with privacy and how little you trust the people/companies around you to snoop. For the personal home computer at least, this is an extremely useful tool.

For more information check out these WaPo articles:

Main WaPo article: Google Releases Desktop Search Tool (
WaPo product review: Google Desktop Outshines Windows' File-Search Capabilities
WaPo For the paranoid: Privacy Eroding, Bit by Byte

And others:

CNN for the paranoid.
Tons more via Google News.

And the Google Desktop Search info and download site.


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