Google Prepares to Take On Microsoft on the Desktop

Google's new offerings include a beta version of the forthcoming upgrade of its desktop search tool and a "communications tool" that is said to be a step beyond the company's current search-related business focus.

Google is poised to compete with Microsoft and produce an alternate computing platform for PC users, analysts contend.

Google Inc., of Mountain View, Calif., on Monday launched a beta version of the forthcoming upgrade of its desktop search tool, and on Wednesday the company is expected to unveil a "communications tool" that is said to be a step beyond the companys current search-related business focus.

The beta of Google Desktop 2 "is a new, easier way to get information—even without searching," said Marissa Mayer, director of product management for consumer products at Google.

"You can think of it as a personal Web assistant that learns about your habits and interests to identify and present Web pages, news stories and photos that it thinks you will be interested in."

One analyst, Gerald Flournoy, vice president of IT solutions at the consulting firm The Millennium Group, located in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., told Ziff Davis Internet that the computing industry has been eyeing the doings at Google for the past several months, anticipating major technology announcements, and news of a $4 billion stock offering.

"With this quantum leap forward, Google is stepping deeper into territory held by Microsoft—which has its own notepad and search features—and Yahoo, with its My Yahoo personalization efforts," said Flournoy.

Microsoft has made significant changes in the beta version of its new Vista operating system, including desktop search features, which seem to many to be created to compete with Google.

Yet, the very idea of what a desktop is—considered by many to be the "dashboard" that controls the PC today—is now changing, due to the competition between Google and Microsoft Corp., based in Redmond, Wash.

"New [desktop] search tools arent just about serving up information, but rather quickly analyzing and digesting the meaning of that information," said Shannon Sullivan, a spokeswoman for Factiva, a Dow Jones and Reuters company, a key player in the information business.

"Effective role-based search applications will use technologies that uncover trending, comparison, discovery and determination of sentiment, which will then feed into applications that present the information using visualization and analytics."

To be sure, Sullivan said, the end result will only be as good as the underlying content that drives it.

/zimages/6/28571.gifRead more here about Microsoft and Googles local search services from columnist David Coursey.

"This means the most effective business search applications will be those that help users quickly navigate huge volumes of data and efficiently produce the most trustworthy information to the user," she added.

According to Flournoy, the new Google technology promises to be a new and easy way to get information.

If Google delivers on that potential, "now that would be a coup," said Flournoy.

Google said the beta version of the second generation of its desktop search feature has several upgrades, including:

  • A Sidebar that provides desktop access to an array of personalized information, including e-mail, news, weather, photos, stocks and RSS and Atom news feeds. This appears as a small vertical window on the side of a users screen that includes a series of "live" content panels.
  • A Scratch Pad for users to type and save notes and a get a quick view of recently or frequently visited Websites.
  • A Quick Find feature, which enables users to search their hard drive to find files and launch applications "as fast as they can type," Google said. Using Quick Find, users can type a few letters or words and the top results pop up "instantly."
  • An Outlook Toolbar, which enables Microsoft Outlook users to search all of their Outlook e-mail directly from an embedded search box and results list, without having to leave the app.

Additional features include extended search capabilities for additional file types and content, including MSN Messenger chats and network drives, Google said.

Other firms, in addition to Microsoft and Google, are eyeing desktop search technology.

Earlier this year, recognizing the need for true enterprise-ready desktop search tools, Verity acquired 80-20 Softwares desktop search-related intellectual property assets.

Verity purchased enterprise-ready desktop search software used by the likes of include Chevron-Texaco, Intel, and Siemens Business Services that "executes fast, accurate searching of all e-mail folders and local file systems to give users one access point to information stored on their personal systems," a spokesperson for Verity, Chaim Haas, told Ziff Davis Internet.

Though technology critics say desktop search is far from perfect, consumers seem to like it just the way it is now.

"The Google desktop search is superior to the search capabilities that come with Microsoft," said Michael Dowding, a technical writer at Wordscape Communications, based in suburban Boston.

"Its more granular, and faster, too. But Im not going to download the beta of the new Google just yet. Im a cautious guy. I may download the full version of it when it is available later."

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