Jewish World Review

Web-searching giant now lets users browse their own PCs | (KRT) It should be as easy to search a computer as it is to search the Web.

And Google, the current king of Web-searching, recently introduced a new desktop program for Windows PCs that swiftly searches a computer's hard drive for documents, e-mail messages, instant message transcripts and Web pages.

Google Desktop Search is software - not a service - that you can download at

Although the program can be used offline to search for information on a hard drive, Google has designed it to run in a Web browser so it blends with its online search engine page.

After you've installed the program, a "desktop" link appears above the search term field when visiting Users can also access Google Desktop Search by double-clicking on its icon on the lower right corner of the screen, which is commonplace for programs running quietly in the background.

Google says the search software, which is currently in an early beta version, doesn't expose hard drives to the dangers of the Internet, even when the program connects with the search engine.

Google's privacy policy says the desktop search program will not send any personal information such as a user's name or address to the company without permission. The software can send nonpersonal information - like the program's performance and reliability - to Google, but users can turn the feature off.

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"Your computer's content is not made accessible to Google or anyone else without your explicit permission," the company says in its privacy policy.

The search software lets you select what types of information you want indexed for searching, including e-mail in Outlook, AOL Instant Messenger and Microsoft's Word, Excel and PowerPoint. And the program can be told to forget certain files, folders or Web sites if you see something in the search results you'd rather not see again - although it will remain on the hard drive unless you manually delete it.

Right now the software is compatible only with Windows 2000, patched with service pack three or later, and Windows XP. Internet Explorer 5.0 or later is also required.

The program is small, weighing only about 400 kilobytes, which means it takes about 10 minutes to download using a dial-up connection and nearly instantaneously over a broadband connection.

Depending on how much data you have on your computer and what you tell the software to catalog, Google Desktop Search can take hours to index the contents of a hard drive. The process begins as soon as the software is installed but runs only when the computer is idle for 30 seconds.

I installed the Google Desktop Search on the laptop I use every day to see how it would handle the piles of information packed onto the hard drive. I allowed it to index all documents, e-mail and Web histories and let it run overnight.

The next morning, clicking on the program's "status" link revealed it had discovered more than 11,000 e-mail messages, about 1,500 various documents and more than 1,400 Web pages in the browser history.

Google says that after a drive is scanned, indexing occurs in real time with little effect on the computer's performance, and I noticed no slowdown during the initial probe or afterward.

With Google Desktop properly educated, I started running searches, and much like Google's online search engine, the results were frighteningly fast and accurate.

For example, typing "Milwaukee park Wi-Fi network" into the desktop search software instantly found three Word documents with notes I have taken for stories I've written on that subject and four e-mail messages tied to the topic.

Clicking on a document in the results list automatically opens the file using the appropriate program, and selecting an e-mail message opens it in a browser window. You can read, reply or forward it in that window or use the "view in Outlook" option and work with the message that way.

Sorting through the results of a hard-drive query is also simple and intuitive.

For example, searching my laptop using the terms "Electronic Arts" - which is a major computer and video game publisher - yielded 425 results. But I was easily able to screen out the 396 e-mail messages and 12 Web history references to find the 17 Word, PowerPoint and text files containing content with those terms. And again, the results appeared nearly instantaneously, taking only 0.13 seconds, according to the program. You can also sort search results according to date or by relevance.

Google's software smoked the "advanced find" feature built into Outlook for looking for specific e-mail messages and the "search for files or folders function" that is part of Windows XP. And although Windows XP has an indexing system for cataloging documents on a computer, it can dramatically slow down a machine and often isn't used.

Google Desktop search looks, feels and works like the online search engine because it uses the same algorithms, and several search tricks you can use on work with the program.

For example, you can tailor searches using defining terms such as "and," "or" and "not," and you can search for specific types of files by using operators such as "filetype:word" or "filetype:pdf" after the search terms.

Personal search software has been available for years, ranging from hobbyist shareware programs to professional-grade products from companies such as Copernic and X1. But the Google Desktop Search might finally make this kind of software popular.

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© 2004, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services