Google Inc. is bringing its proven search capabilities to a Windows XP- or Windows 2000-equipped computer near you, helping users to catalog most of the files and content on their PCs through its latest offering, the Google Desktop Search program.
The Mountain View, Calif.-based search engine and search appliance company Thursday unveiled the new beta software, which is now available free to users as a small 446KB download.
The application, which sits on a user's computer, doesn't share the contents of the computer with Google's servers or any other users, unless permission is given by the user, the company said in a statement.
The desktop search software catalogs the user's files upon installation, then allows the user to search through e-mail, files, Web histories and instant message chats and organize the content to clear up what had likely been several years' worth of haphazard data storage on the PC.
The results of the search on the user's PC are integrated with Google's WebSearch engine to call up all hits on the search terms being used.
"Google Desktop Search brings the power of Google to your personal information on your own computer," Larry Page, the company's co-founder and president of products, said in a statement. "As easily as searching Google, you can instantly search your files, local e-mail, the Web pages you have seen, and more. Google Desktop Search represents a quantum leap in access to your own information."
The software won't, however, provide search capabilities for all e-mail clients or applications. It's designed to search e-mail in Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express and files in Microsoft's Word, Excel and PowerPoint applications. It will also search text and Web site history in Microsoft's Internet Explorer Web browser and instant message chats in AOL Instant Messenger, according to Google.
"It's pretty impressive that a download that quick and small can be so powerful," allowing users to search by subject, date or relevance, said Dana Gardner, an analyst at The Yankee Group in Boston. "That's quite powerful. We really haven't seen anything like this for free before."
Gardner said the search product has strategic implications for users, particularly in business computing, where workers could install and use it without the approval of corporate IT departments.
"There are some privacy and IT management issues here," he said. "It sort of provides an archive of what you do as well. There could be good or bad implications."
"For home or personal use, using it makes a great deal of sense, but for the enterprise, these caveats need to be reviewed and discussed," he said.
Cindy Cohn, legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based nonprofit privacy group, said her organization so far has few privacy concerns about the software and its capabilities.
"As a fundamental tool, it really doesn't report much of anything back to Google. It didn't raise any immediate red flags" after the foundation staff viewed a demonstration of the search engine by Google representatives, Cohn said. One shortcoming, she said, is that the search program isn't available for Macintosh users, which is a disappointment to the Macintosh-equipped foundation staff.
"Frankly, I think a lot of folks who've been online a while have had the problem where we can't find things on our computers, so this is a good thing," Cohn said.
The new software constantly updates itself to catalog new files, e-mails and other content on a regular basis, according to Google. Users can select what information they want to have searched and can easily remove information whenever they want.
The software is available in English, but other languages are planned.
A Google spokesman couldn't be reached for comment Friday.
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