Search Run Amok

Migrating search downstream to the user desktop is a natural and inevitable extension of Google's Web engine, but search with technology as powerful as Google or whatever Microsoft is conjuring is overkill.

The first signs of Googles successful IPO are reverberating through the tech industry.

The search companys first public earnings report showed that profits jumped more than 150 percent over last years third quarter and shot the stock price up to $190 last Monday. Thats more than double the August offering price of $85. So much for worries of a soft IPO market.

Google is wasting no time putting those IPO billions to work. Theres the gmail e-mail service and word of a new browser on the way to compete with Internet Explorer. But theres another big effort that is troubling me.

The Google Desktop Search application, launched last month, sounds like a great idea: Rather than bring the computer to Google, as one analyst put it, lets bring Google to the desktop. But like all grand plans, its not that simple. And its not just Google. As eWEEK reported last month, Microsoft Research is ready to integrate several projects in MSN Search and "Longhorn," the next version of Windows, along the lines of "personalized" search. Technology from the companys Lookout Software acquisition this year is already part of MSN Search. In addition, Googles other main competitor, Yahoo, in October bought Stata Labs, whose Bloomba technology allows users to search e-mail and attachments.

/zimages/1/28571.gifTo read more about Google Desktop Search, click here.

Search is fine when it has a point, but Google and others efforts here are just another signpost along the road to dumbing down the Web. To wit: "Users no longer understand the difference between their hard drive and the Web," Marissa Mayer, Googles director of consumer Web products, told eWEEK.coms Matt Hicks. "All they can remember is that theyve seen something." I dont know about you, but searching for something on my computer is not that difficult—almost as easy as keeping your files organized in the first place.

Migrating search downstream to the user desktop is a natural and inevitable extension of Googles Web engine. And certainly, desktop search gives the search industry a reason to consolidate further, with Google, Yahoo and Microsoft seeking to corner the market. That means putting search technology everywhere.

But searching giant, ever-changing realms such as the Internet, intranets or even directories, is one thing. Searching your PC is another—even for me, a person who generates, reads or otherwise interacts with hundreds of files per week. Search with technology as powerful as Google or whatever Microsoft is conjuring is overkill. Windows, Mac OS and Linux already contain search tools, which work fine if you know how to type in the keywords.

With todays computers coming standard with 80GB hard drives, the thinking must be that those new drives are filling up with files faster than we can search them. But its not the number of files thats growing in proportion to the size of hard drives, its the size of the files—music and video to be precise. In those cases, users generally know what they are looking for, and theyre already using an application for it. If its an MP3 file, for instance, users can search using Explorer or whatever music database they prefer, such as iTunes or RealPlayer. The same goes if they are searching for a Word or Excel file.

Googles Desktop Search goes way beyond that. It indexes every file on your hard drive, including e-mail, saved IM conversations, temporary Internet files or saved Web pages, including all the usual stuff people want to find. Users can turn off messaging or browser cache indexing if they are concerned about privacy or want to speed the indexing processes.

After the initial indexing, which takes several hours, the application will continue to index all new files that contain information that could be searched. Its supposed to do that while the machine is idle, but in my experience, the overhead created by Google Search turned my daily work into a daily grind.

Once a killer app, search is about to become a time killer, crossing the line from helpful utility to intrusive application tied into everything. Perhaps some problem will emerge—Sarbanes-Oxley?—for which such capabilities are appropriate. But if an enterprise has to resort to such tools mining company PCs, it has bigger problems than too much search.

Scot Petersens e-mail address is

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Scot Petersen

Scot Petersen

Scot Petersen is a technology analyst at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. Prior to joining Ziff Brothers, Scot was the editorial director, Business Applications & Architecture,...