Digital Culture

Google Desktop

Today everyone’s favorite search engine, Google, released Google Desktop an indexing/searching tool for the individual PC. From the Google Desktop page:

Google Desktop Search is how our brains would work if we had photographic memories. It’s a desktop search application that provides full text search over your email, computer files, chats, and the web pages you’ve viewed. By making your computer searchable, Google Desktop Search puts your information easily within your reach and frees you from having to manually organize your files, emails, and bookmarks.

After downloading Google Desktop Search, you can search your personal items as easily as you search the Internet using Google. Unlike traditional computer search software that updates once a day, Google Desktop Search updates continually for most file types, so that when you receive a new email in Outlook, for example, you can search for it within seconds. The index of searchable information created by Desktop Search is stored on your own computer.

There are several things that immediately came to my mind when looking at the product. One is whether or not it is reporting back to Google homebase about content. The privacy policy assures us that it is not, but I’d love to see an independant examination of the code. They do list two specific instances when search terms used in a desktop search may be sent to Google proper, so that’s something to be aware of.

The indexing is done as you go, with the Desktop applet running in the background. The installation takes 500 Megabytes of hard drive space, which seems massive overkill for what is effectively a text index. Then again, there is the ability to cache webpages as you go (only with IE, of course) which would add considerably to the size. Currently, Google Desktop only indexes the following filetypes:

  • Web pages you’ve previously seen in Internet Explorer
  • Email you’ve sent or received via Outlook or Outlook Express
  • IM chats you’ve had using AOL Instant Messenger (AIM)
  • Files in Microsoft Word, Excel, or PowerPoint as well as plain text

Obviously, to be of any real use it needs to support other filetypes, browsers, and email clients. But they say that they are working on that.

Another interesting feature is that when you go to Google, it will know if you have Desktop enabled and will search your local system at the same time as the web. That’s an interested synergy, esp. since I’ve caught myself re-downloading patches and such that I’ve stored away in a corner of my HD and forgotten. Of course, this would be MUCH more useful if Google Desktop supported partial word searches (finding a file called “directionstocincy.txt” when I search for “directions” for instance), which it doesn’t.

And, finally, you can remove results from the index (if, for instance, you’re sharing a computer and don’t want certain files indexed…). They are looking at further integrations, obviously (like allowing Google Desktop to search your Gmail account as well). No go for the MacOS users, of course…working on that as well.

I’ll probably download this and look at it on the new laptop tonight. I will say that previous offerings from Google (Google Toolbar, Gmail, Picasa and even Blogger has gotten better since they purchased it) have all been fabulous. Heck just in looking at the URL’s for this post I discovered another free-due-to-Google tool, Hello (a photo-blogging tool that links Picasa to Blogger…have to try that out, too).

Actual usage will tell whether this is useful at all for someone who doesn’t use IE (Firefox, baby!), doesn’t use Outlook (Thunderbird, of course), doesn’t use AIM (GAIM is the shiz), and works with more than just MS Office files. More info as I play with this.

EDIT: somehow I missed Paul’s rundown on Google SMS. Google really does have an amazing willingness to jump down every rabbit hole they pass.

By griffey

Jason Griffey is the Director of Strategic Initiatives at NISO, where he works to identify new areas of the information ecosystem where standards expertise is useful and needed. Prior to joining NISO in 2019, Jason ran his own technology consulting company for libraries, has been both an Affiliate at metaLAB and a Fellow and Affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, and was an academic librarian in roles ranging from reference and instruction to Head of IT at the University of TN at Chattanooga.

Jason has written extensively on technology and libraries, including multiple books and a series of full-periodical issues on technology topics, most recently AI & Machine Learning in Libraries and Library Spaces and Smart Buildings: Technology, Metrics, and Iterative Design from 2018. His newest book, co-authored with Jeffery Pomerantz, will be published by MIT Press in 2024.

He has spoken internationally on topics such as artificial intelligence & machine learning, the future of technology and libraries, decentralization and the Blockchain, privacy, copyright, and intellectual property. A full list of his publications and presentations can be found on his CV.
He is one of eight winners of the Knight Foundation News Challenge for Libraries for the Measure the Future project (, an open hardware project designed to provide actionable use metrics for library spaces. He is also the creator and director of The LibraryBox Project (, an open source portable digital file distribution system.

Jason can be stalked obsessively online, and spends his free time with his daughter Eliza, reading, obsessing over gadgets, and preparing for the inevitable zombie uprising.

6 replies on “Google Desktop”

I am also a Firefox/Thunderbird/Gaim user, and thought I would point out that the new version works with Firefox and Thunderbird. I’m still looking for a way to get it to interface with Gaim, short of moving the Gaim profile to the desktop… which is how I stumbled upon this entry.

I am a Firefox/Outlook(Got to sync the PDA)/GAIM user, and I have the same problem as Michael – No GAIM integration. Since the Application Data folder is not indexed by GDS, the GAIM logs are not indexed.

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