Not content just to help you find things on the Internet, Google takes on that teetering pile on
your desktop—your computer's desktop, that is.
The Google Desktop (http://desktop.google.com) is your own
private little Google server. It sits in the background, slogging
through your files and folders, indexing your incoming and outgoing
email messages, listening in on your instant messenger chats, and
browsing the Web right along with you. Just about anything you see
and summarily forget, the Google Desktop sees and memorizes:
it's like a photographic memory for your computer.
And it operates in real time.
Beyond the initial sweep, that is. When you first install Google
Desktop, it makes use of any idle time to meander your filesystem,
email application, instant messages, and browser cache. Imbued with a
sense of politeness, the indexer shouldn't interfere
at all with your use of your computer; it only springs into action
when you step away, take a phone call, or doze off for 30 seconds or
more. Pick up the mouse or touch the keyboard and the Google Desktop
scuttles off into the corner, waiting patiently for its next
opportunity to look around.
Its initial inventory taken, the Google Desktop server sits back and
waits for something of interest to come along. Send or receive an
email message, strike up an AIM conversation with a friend, or get a
start on that PowerPoint presentation and it'll be
noticed and indexed within seconds.
The Google Desktop full-text indexes:
Text files, Microsoft Word documents, Excel workbooks, and PowerPoint
presentations living on your hard drive
Email handled through Outlook or Outlook Express
AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) conversations
Web pages browsed in Internet Explorer
Additionally, any other files you have lying about—photographs,
MP3s, movies—are indexed by their filename. So while the Google
Desktop can't tell a portrait of Uncle Alfred
(uncle_alfred.jpg) from a song by
_who_s_your_uncle.mp3), it'll file both
in a search for uncle.
And the point of all this is to make your computer searchable with
the ease, speed, and familiar interface you've come
to expect of Google. The Google Desktop has its own home page on your
computer, shown in , whether
you're online or not. Type in a search query just
like you would at Google proper and click the Search Desktop button
to search your personal index. Or click Search the Web to send your
query out to Google.
Figure 1. The Google Desktop home page
But we're getting a little ahead of ourselves here.
Let's take a few steps back, download and install
the Google Desktop, and work our way back to searching again.
Installing the Google Desktop
Desktop is a Windows-only application, requiring Windows XP or
Windows 2000 Service Pack 3 or later. The application itself is tiny,
but it'll consume about 500 MB of room on your hard
drive and works best with 400 MHz of computing horsepower and 128 MB
Point your browser at http://desktop.google.com, download, and run
the Google Desktop installer. It'll install the
application, embed a little swirly icon in your taskbar, and drop a
shortcut onto your desktop. When it's finished
installing and setting itself up, your default browser pops open and
you're asked to set a few preferences, as shown in
Figure 2. Set Google Desktop search preferences
Click the Set Preferences and Continue button and
you'll be notified that the Google Desktop is
starting its initial indexing sweep. Click the Start Searching button
to get to the Google Desktop home page ().
Searching Your Desktop
From here on out, any time you're looking for
something on your computer, rather than invoking Windows search and
waiting impatiently while it grinds away (and you grind your teeth)
and returns with nothing, double-click the swirly Google Desktop
taskbar icon and Google for it. Don't bother combing
through an endless array of Inboxes, Outboxes, Sent Mail, and folders
or wishing you could remember whether your AIM buddy suggested
starving or feeding your cold. Click the swirl.
shows the results of a Google Desktop
search for hacks. Notice that it found 16 email
messages, 2 files, 1 chat, and 1 item in my IE browsing history
matching my hacks query. As you can probably guess from the icons to
the left of each results, the first three are an AIM chat, HTML file
(most likely from my browser's cache), and an email
message. These are sorted by date, but you can easily make a switch
to relevance by clicking the "Sort by
relevance" link at the top-right of the results
Figure 3. Google Desktop search results
Figures , ,
and show each of these individual search
results as I clicked through them. Note that each is displayed in a
manner appropriate to the content.
Click the "Chat with..." link shown
in to launch an AIM conversation with
the person at hand.
Figure 4. An AIM instant message
Cached pages are presented, as shown in ,
in much the same manner as they are in the Google cache.
Figure 5. A cached web page
The various Reply, Reply to All, Forward, etc., links associated with
an individual message result () work:
click them and the appropriate action will be taken by Outlook or
Figure 6. An email message
Google Desktop Search Syntax
It just wouldn't be a Google search
there weren't special search syntax to go along with
The Boolean OR works as expected (e.g., hacks OR
snacks), as does negation (e.g., hacks
A filetype: operator restricts searches to only a
particular type of file: filetype:powerpoint or
filetype:ppt (.ppt being the
PowerPoint file extension) both find only Microsoft PowerPoint files
while filetype:word or
filetype:doc (.doc being the
Word file extension) both restrict results to Microsoft Word
Searching the Web
Now you'd think I'd hardly need to
cover Googling ... and you'd be right. But
there's a little more to googling via the Google
Desktop than you might expect. Take a close look at the results of a
Google search for hacks shown in .
Figure 7. Google Desktop Web Search results pack a little extra
Come on back when you're through with that double
If you missed it, notice the new quick links ["Quick
Links" in ]:
"27 results stored on your
Yes, those are the same results (and then some, given my indexer was
hard at work) returned in my earlier Google Desktop Search of my
local machine. As an added reminder, they're called
out by that Google Desktop swirl. Click a local result and
you'll end up in just the same place as before: all
27 results, an HTML page, or Microsoft Word document. Click any other
quick link or search result and they'll act in the
manner that you'd expect from any Google.com
Behind the Scenes
Now before you start worrying about the results of a local
search—or indeed your local files—being sent off to
Google, read on. What's actually going on is that
the local Google Desktop server is intercepting any Google Web
searches, passing them on to Google.com in your stead, and running
the same search against your computer's local index.
It's then intercepting the Web search results as
they come back from Google, pasting in local finds, and presenting it
to you in your browser as a cohesive whole.
All work involving your local data is done on your computer. Neither
your filenames nor your files themselves are ever sent on to
For more on Google
Desktop and privacy, right-click the Google Desktop taskbar swirl,
select About, and click the Privacy link.
Twiddling Knobs and Setting Preferences
There are various knobs to twiddle and preferences to set through the
Google Desktop browser-based interface and taskbar swirl.
Set various preferences in the Google Desktop Preferences page.
Click the Desktop Preferences link on the Google Desktop home page or
any results page to bring up the settings shown in .
Figure 8. Google Desktop Preferences
Hide your local results from sight when sharing Google Web Search
results with a friend or colleague by clicking the Hide link next to
any visible Google Desktop quick links. You can also turn Desktop
quick link results on and off from the Google Desktop Preferences
Click the "Remove results" link
next to the Search Desktop button on the top-right of any results
page and you'll be able to go through and remove
particular items from Google Desktop index, as shown in . Do note that if you open or view any of these
items again, they'll once again be indexed and start
showing up in search results.
Figure 9. Removing items from your Google Desktop index
Search, set preferences, check the status of your index, pause or
resume indexing, quit Google Desktop, or browse the
"About" docs by right-clicking the
Google Desktop taskbar swirl and choosing an item from the menu,
shown in .
Figure 10. The Google Desktop taskbar menu gets you to knobs to twiddle and preferences to set
When evaluating the Google Desktop as an interface to finding needles
in my personal haystack, one thing sticks in my mind: I stumbled
across an old email message that I was sure I'd