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Google Enhances Desktop Search

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Google has released a new version of its desktop search tool, offering features such as integration with Outlook, a sidebar with nifty widgets to display photos, headlines and much more.

The enhancements 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.

Here's a closer look at what's new in the latest release.

Installation

If you're already a user of Google Desktop Search (GDS), you'll need to download the application and reindex your hard drive. Your current version of GDS will not automatically update with this new beta release. GDS is only currently only available in English, for Windows computers. No Macintosh version is available, as yet.

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).

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. 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, and automatically update with new info. These eight panels offer access to:

  • E-Mail: This option allows you to see and read new Gmail without having to visit the Gmail site. Your Gmail is also indexed and made searchable via GDS2. The email window of the Google Sidebar also works with Outlook. Take that Microsoft.
  • News: News headlines are available from a variety of sources. If you allow Google to track the stories you're clicking on your news headlines headlines will be personalized over time based on 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 your photos folders are displayed 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.
  • What's Hot: A combination of different sources to let you know what people are talking about, extractedfrom blog/RSS engines Technorati and DayPop.
  • Stocks: Current stock prices for your favorite securities.
  • Weather: Current temperatures and a one day forecast for places of your choice.
  • 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.

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, or sponsored panels for new movies, TV programs, new products and so on. 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 via an API. The sidebar and the panels available today and those likely be available soon, remind me of what Yahoo now offers with its recently acquired Konfabulator widgets. 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.

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

Other Features

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

  • Password Protection and 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 all documents that Google Desktop Search has cached.
  • Options to Search Network Drives

The Bottom Line

For Google Desktop Search fans, it's Christmas (or choose other holiday) in August! This is some cool stuff, especially now that Google now has quietly released its own RSS aggregator.

And 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.

Google Desktop Search 2 Download(Windows only)
http://desktop.google.com/

Want to discuss or comment on this story? Join the New Google Desktop Search 2 With Widgets Sidebar discussion in the Search Engine Watch forums.

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