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HACK
#61
Google Your Desktop
Google your desktop and the rest of your filesystem, mailbox, and instant messenger conversations—even your browser cache
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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 "Uncle Cracker" (uncle_cracker__double_wide_ _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.

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 list.

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 Outlook Express.

Figure 6. An email message

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 page.

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 lost.

See also:

  • The Google Desktop Proxy (http://www.projectcomputing.com/resources/desktopProxy)
    takes desktop searching beyond your own desktop. A little proxy
    server sitting on your computer accepts queries from other machines
    on the network, passes them to the Google Desktop engine running
    locally, and forwards the results on.



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