Google Desktop Search Doesnt Threaten Security

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2004-10-18 Print this article Print

Opinion: Privacy hysterics bring old whine in new bottles to the Internet party. The desktop search beta from this Web search leader doesn't do anything you can't do already.

Searching a Windows system has always been harder than it should be. Windows has come with an indexing service for a while to facilitate searching, but it and the search are second-rate. Google must have thought it a natural to bring its highly regarded search technology to the desktop. The company also should have counted on the negative publicity it got, even though all of it, as best as I can tell, is based on bad analysis—some of it from suspicious sources. I looked at the program and the complaints, and I dont see a big deal here.

The just-released beta version of Google Desktop Search is an attempt to make a local search engine with the power and charming interface of the popular search engine. It indexes and then lets the user search e-mails, chats, Web sites the user has viewed and files on the users system.

Read more here about the Google Desktop Search beta.
I installed GDS on two systems. Its a svelte download (456,808 bytes) and fairly small in memory as well: three processes, totaling about 12.5MB RAM. (Sigh ... How our standards have changed. 12.5MB used to be a lot of memory.) The search index, stored in the C:\Documents and Settings\user name\Local Settings\Application Data\Google\Google Desktop Search directory, took up 757,002,240 bytes. This is definitely a lot, but not for this particular system. My biggest complaint about GDS while its running on my system is that it adds yet another tray icon. Windows XP started to deal with the problem of tray clutter, but its still largely out of control. But back to the issue at hand.

The GDS installation didnt seem to keep secrets from me. It warned that it would create an Internet Explorer add-on, and according to the docs and privacy policy, it uses the same cookie as other Google services. You can see this in the fact that the Google home page itself has a "Desktop" option after installation. You also can bring up the GDS page through options on the tray icon.

After the program installs, it begins a one-time indexing process that, depending on your configuration, can take some time. On one of my systems, it took several hours because my My Documents folder is located on a network drive (a simple change to make in Windows XP). This shows, by the way, that GDS doesnt just index the local drive.

The search facility worked very well for me and is extremely fast. It runs as a Windows service, accessible through a local http server on a nonstandard port. The absence of any user interface code, other than the HTML generation in the engine, must be partly responsible for the small size of the program. The GDS page itself is a classic, simple, Google-style Web page served from with some indecipherable options on the URL.

Next page: Slick results.

Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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