Google Delves into the Desktop

Google Desktop Search, out in beta, moves beyond files and e-mail to search IM and Web site history, then ties them all together with Web results. A forthcoming API will let outside developers add formats and features.

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Google Inc. upped the ante Thursday in the growing desktop search battle, introducing an application that combines Web results with those from a users hard drive.

In its beta release, Google Desktop Search supports only the most common file formats and applications. But Google plans in future releases to open access to application developers through an API, company officials told

Like desktop-search clients, Googles application indexes and searches a users hard drive for Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express e-mails and files in Microsoft Word, PowerPoint Excel and text formats.

But it also draws results from Internet Explorers history of visited Web sites as well as from AOL Instant Messenger sessions, the company announced.


What stands out about Googles approach, analysts said, is that the search company has merged a users local results with Web results all within Googles well-known Web-site interface. When they conduct a combined search, users are taken to Googles site, where desktop results appear in a highlighted area above the typical Web results.

Users can choose to search only their desktops, which appear in a local Web page. But in its own testing, the Mountain View, Calif., company found that users care less about where information is stored and more about being able to find it, said Marissa Mayer, Googles director of consumer Web products.

"Users no longer understand the difference between their hard drive and the Web," Mayer said in a discussion with "All they can remember is that theyve seen something."

For the beta launch, Google focused on file formats from applications with the highest market share, which explains the support for Microsoft files and AOLs IM, Mayer said.

Google Desktop does not search for common Web data exchange formats such as Adobe Systems Inc.s PDF (Portable Document Format), nor does it retrieve Web history information from alternative browsers such as Mozilla Firefox.


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Google, though, is working on expanding support for other formats. Already, it is considering adding PDFs, Lotus Notes e-mail and other IM services, Mayer said.

More telling, it also expects to create an API so that application developers themselves can create plug-ins for Google Desktop and make their files searchable. Mayer did not know when that would occur.

"Its important that we get comprehensive," Mayer said. "Were still thinking about details of [the API], but there are thousands and tens of thousands of applications, and users want to do a comprehensive search across them."

Next Page: Other forays into desktop search.