Google has launched its long-anticipated local search tool for Windows PCs. The small 400 kb applet indexes Outlook and Outlook Express mail, Microsoft Office formats and AOL chat logs, (er, but I don't use any of that - Ed) as well as plain text and HTML files on your hard drive. It also indexes Internet Explorer's web cache (or that - Ed). Google Desktop Search uses the browser user interface, and adds a tab to the Google home page.
So far, so not terribly original. But the tight integration with Google's internet search page is what distinguishes it from dozens of other free toolbar/system tray applets. The application uses the http server on your machine to give you something that looks like www.google.com, only with an extra tab.Queries can combine the results of either local or internet search, and the integration is so tight that search results from email include a Reply to and Reply to all option. The tool can also save a history of local searches too: a useful memory aide. Although Google claims that it only works with Internet Explorer, it runs fine with Opera 7.5.
Microsoft had vowed to brush up its local search technology for Windows Longhorn, but recently "decoupled" the underlying infrastructure WinFS from the 2006 release schedule. Apple is introduce an impressive metadata-based search engine in the next release of Mac OS X, due next year. Although Microsoft's plans are much more ambitious - including network features - Apple managed to create a subset that's most useful to most personal computer users with a fraction of the resources.
In 1997 Netscape introduced a similar idea, Constellation, which merged local and internet applications and data in something called Homeport. Microsoft hit back with Active Desktop.
Google Desktop Search is no match for existing premium products, of which the $199 dtSearch is probably the most accomplished, and X1 the most recent. dtSearch handles documents larger than 101 kb (a crippling limitation for serious users that's also shared by Mac OS X Tiger's search technology, as well as Google's Internet search), multiple indices, and more sophisticated queries, as well as a broader range of file formats. Both allow real-time iterative searches.
But then again, it's hard to compete with free. Google isn't so much concerned with putting premium search rivals out of business as it is making its home page a little more sticky, and if a success, Desktop Search should help out enormously. ®