Web search monster Google has slipped what could be a revolutionary piece of software out of beta and made it freely available to the public.
Called Google Desktop Search (we’re convinced it will be GDS before too long), this nifty tool indexes your emails, Word, Excel, Powerpoint and pdf documents, text and audio files, web history and even instant messager chats. A small search box is installed which can be clamped to your taskbar or positioned anywhere on your desktop. Type in whatever you are looking for and an almost instantaneous list of results will be loaded into your default web browser.
The results are categorised, linked to the original file, thumbnailed where appropriate and (because the system is cached) can get you out of a jam because for a short time it saves copies of files you have deleted. Naturally, you can exclude any formats you do not want indexed and skip password protected files and specific folders. And in case you were wondering: none of your collated file information is shared with Google.
So how does it work? Well, the little 2MB download makes an initial search of your hard drive which can take anything from a few minutes to a few hours depending how large and how full your hard drive is and (since the software only runs when a computer is idle for more than 30 seconds) how much you are using your machine. It obeys the same principles to keep its index up to date meaning it never impacts system performance.
I have to say, I’ve tried GDS (see, I’m doing it already) since its beta days and it does shake up the way I use my PC. In moments of boredom I’ve even discovered a new game: doing searches for random words such as “axiomatic” just to see how many times it is located on my hard drive. Why? Surely the answer is axiomatic! (And for those who care, the answer is twice, both times in Word documents).
Now being serious for a minute, this concept of desktop searches is going to be big business over the coming months. The current Windows based search is slow, cumbersome and has been woefully inadequate for many years. The fact that Microsoft is trialling its own version of GDS (to be integrated into its MSN toolbar) shows it knows this. Yahoo! also has its own beta available, while Apple, Ask Jeeves, AOL and countless others are sniffing around with intent.
Of course, the software itself is an inevitable result of hard drives getting ever larger and the fact that we really don’t need to delete things anymore. Keeping them neatly filed, however, has proved an entirely different matter. Now it looks like we won’t have to bother. Hooray!