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Google Desktop Search 2 Offers New Sidebar Widgets, Outlook Integration & More

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Google has released a new version of its desktop search tool. Now in beta, Google Desktop Search 2 offers features such as integration with Outlook, indexing of email at Gmail, a sidebar with nifty widgets to display photos, headlines, RSS feed and a virtual scratch pad. The changes will likely have folks at Microsoft and Yahoo nervous but Google users pleased. Some of the changes will also no doubt kick off another round of speculation that a Google OS may be coming.

Everything Google Desktop Search has offered -- the ability to find and locate things on your computer -- remains. Here's a closer look at what's new in the latest release.

Installation

If you're already a user of Google Desktop Search, you're going to have to download the application and reindex your hard drive. Your current version of GDS will not automatically update with this beta release. If you want an auto-update, it's likely you'll have to wait until the program leaves beta. Also, another question you might be asking, is if GDS 2 available for Mac users? The answer is no. Also, at this point its is only available in English.

The download is still very small and installation is point, check, and click. After beginning the installation process you'll see a page asking you to set your preferences (which can be changed at any time). By the way, note the option to change the default search engine in IE to Google. (-:

Options include being able to search your desktop and Google's Gmail with the Google Deskbar, a floating deskbar, or the new Google Sidebar that stays on desktop when minimized. It provides quick access to not only a search box but to other services from Google and on your hard drive.

Google Sidebar

The Google Sidebar is is the most important "new" part of this beta release and will not only get people talking but also get developers developing.

The Google Sidebar can be placed anywhere on your desktop and offers several new widget/tools within easy virtual reach. However, Google Desktop Search must be running for the sidebar to work. You can't just have only the sidebar part if you want, unfortunately. Google says the sidebar is too dependent on personalizing itself based on GDS activity for this.

The sidebar remains visible unless you minimize it in most Windows applications. Just like we've seen with the Google Deskbar, you can now Google from just about anywhere in Windows.

The Google Sidebar I used last week came pre-loaded with eight panes or panels, each customizable. All eight panels can also be minimized or removed. They also automatically update with new info. The 8 panels offer access to:
 

  • E-Mail: This option allows you to see and read new Gmail without having to go to the Gmail site. Your Gmail is also indexed and made searchable via GDS2. The email "window" of the Google Sidebar will also works with Outlook. Take that Microsoft.
     
  • News: News headlines from a variety of sources. If you allow Google to know what stories you're clicking on your news headlines headlines will be personalized over time based on what articles you've looked at in the past.
     
  • Web Clips: Web Clips is the Google name for RSS feeds. In other words, the sidebar can also function as an RSS or ATOM aggregator. Web Clips also offers an autodiscover function. Say you visit a bunch of sites that have feeds but can't find the feed. Simply click and add them to your list of feeds. Note to Google: It would be nice to have an option to view full text feeds directly from the sidebar.
     
  • Scratch Pad: Type and save quick notes.
     
  • Photos: Images from whatever folder(s) you store images in are accessible. In fact, you can also view all/some of your photos as a slide show. You can also display photos from an online photo album.
     
  • Quick View: Provides access to frequently used web pages and files. The sidebar also offers a new feature called QuickFind that allows you the chance to open any program by just typing a few keystrokes into the search box. For example, you can type the letters WOR to open MS Word. Also, all of the custom search shortcuts that you might have created with Google Desktop Search 1 will be available here.
     
  • What's Hot: A combination of different sources to let you know what people are talking about. How something makes the "hot" box is unknown but Google did tell us that presently material comes from blog/RSS engines Technorati and DayPop. I'm wondering if some day certain advertisers or products might make it into the "hot" panel.
     
  • Stocks: Current stock prices, customizable
     
  • Weather: Current temperatures and a one day forecast for places you set.
     
  • Search: At the very bottom of the default sidebar is a search box. By the way, sidebar boxes can be reordered by simply dragging and dropping.

Are sidebars and similar tools a new idea? No. IE has had an "Explorer" bar for years and Firefox offers numerous sidebar plugins like the PubSub sidebar I use regularly. Of course, don't forget the very popular Mac Dashboard. Nevertheless, since Google is now releasing one, the whole sidebar "concept" will likely gain a new audience.

No doubt the Google Sidebar will appeal to Google fans and tech geeks (see below) alike. However, I wonder if all of these bells and whistles, although potentially useful, are just too much for the typical user. Do they really want or need all of these cool services? Of course, one wonders if the typical user knows about or uses a desktop search app in the first place? Sorry for being just a bit cynical. I wish Google and others would spend 1/10 of the time they spend developing new services and use it to teach people how to become better searchers and better consumers of information.

What else does the Google Sidebar do? It gives Google some serious real estate on the desktop. Although there presently isn't a panel that shows keyword advertising, it's easy to envision panels with contextual and local advertising in them. What about sponsored panels for new movies, TV programs, new products, etc. For the record, Google says it has "no plans" on the advertising front.

Google Sidebar API

Google is also opening up the sidebar to developers with an API. I'm sure developers will have a field day developing new panels. The sidebar and the panels available today and those likely be available soon, remind me of what Yahoo now offers with their acquisition Konfabulator and Apple offers with their application. Not familiar with Yaho Konfabulator? Check out Chris Sherman's recent article that looks at all the widgets that Konfabulator brings to Yahoo: Why Yahoo Bought Konfabulator.

Will today's release start a war for who offers the most sidebar apps or Konfabulator widgets? My guess is yes, it will. I'm looking forward to seeing the plug-ins that combine the sidebar with Google Maps and satellite imagery. Kind of killing two birds with one stone for the Google developer.

New File Types

Along with the 14 file types indexed with GDS, GDS2 will now index:

  • Gmail
  • MSN Messenger Chats
  • Outlook Contacts
  • Outlook Appointments
  • Outlook Tasks
  • Outlook Notes
  • Outlook Journal

Outlook Integration

Here's another one for that I'm sure Microsofto will love -- not. Yes, it's the debut of the Google Toolbar for Outlook. If you're an MS Outlook user, look for this box that points you to where the Google's Toolbar for Outlook was placed. On my computer, the toolbar sits next to the MSN Toolbar! In addition to searching your Outlook email, you can also use it to search Outlook You can Outlook Contacts, Appointments, Tasks, Notes, and Journal.

Other Features

Along with what I've mentioned above, the GDS2 beta also offers:

  • Password Protection / Index Encryption (available on the GDS2 preferences page)
     
  • Improved Filtering of Results (depending on document type)
     
  • One new feature allows you to see a timeline of everything that Google Desktop Searched cached. In other words, at 8:23 PM cached MS Word Doc xxx, at 7:31 cached AIM Chat. Got to tell you, this is very useful.
     
  • Options to Search Network Drives

Bottom Line?

For Google Desktop Search fans, it's Christmas (or choose other holiday) in August! This is some cool stuff and yes, Virginia, Google now has an RSS aggregator. I'm sure developers will also be busy building new ones. By the way, if you don't want to use Google Desktop Search to search your desktop, the sidebar is still completely usable. For developers? More Google toys to play with.

Finally, if you're a GDS fanatic and want to let others know about your fanaticism, the GoogleStore began selling a Google Desktop Search Baseball Jersey last week.


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