Google Desktop

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 14, 2004

(Rambling ahead...) Google Desktop beta. Early impressions anyone? I think it's pretty damn cool...a baby step towards the GooOS. Do a regular Google search and GD results are inlined right at the top (see screenshots for how it all works). How are they doing that technically?

I've cranked up the size of my browser cache...now that GD can index every page I've ever viewed in my browser, can I afford to throw any of it away? This one-ups what A9 is doing in caching visited sites and searching past search results.

Could this be Google's portal play? If they've got info on all the files on my computer, why not display my latest calendar items, emails, online buddies, etc. right on Google's home page?

But then there's the privacy issues. Is Google using information from my local drive to improve my search results? Should they? "Mr. Kottke, I see you've mentioned 'President Bush' in a recent email. Here are some Google News stories on that topic." Useful, but well, you know.

A co-worker wants to put Google Desktop on a Web server and use that as a search engine for a Web site. Not sure if that would work, but it's an interesting idea. I'm sure some smart hacker will soon figure out how to expose his/her GD search results to the outside world.

Reader comments

John ResigOct 14, 2004 at 12:05PM

Probably my favorite features are the enhancements made to the 'cached page' link. For example, if a text file you author is cached with Google Desktop, then later updated, you can now view both versions of the file. Automatic file revision history - personally, this feature alone sells the application (for me).

CarrickOct 14, 2004 at 12:11PM

It's a revolution. It's indexing my Outlook email in real-time. I can search and read my email with the Google UI.

peioOct 14, 2004 at 12:13PM

I always wanted to know what kind of storage solution do these guys use?
I simply cannot imagine what is required to keep cache of most of the web and not only but to keep and the diffs for that cache.

jkottkeOct 14, 2004 at 12:16PM

I've cranked up the size of my browser cache...now that GD can index every page I've ever viewed in my browser

False alarm...it only indexes IE's history and I'm using Firefox. I'm hoping they'll add support for more browsers soon.

Joshie SurberOct 14, 2004 at 12:20PM

A company that has had multiple controversies and lawsuits over privacy violations, having access to all the files on my computer? Creepy. No thank you.

foobahOct 14, 2004 at 12:23PM

Looks good. Shame it wants me to uninstall my antivirus software (NOD32) if I want it to install and work.

jkottkeOct 14, 2004 at 12:25PM

Rael's got some info on Google Desktop on the O'Reilly Network.

Re: privacy concerns, here's the privacy policy which says, among other things, that "your computer's content is not made accessible to Google or anyone else without your explicit permission." There's a privacy FAQ as well.

GregOct 14, 2004 at 12:27PM

I agree with Joshie Surber here,

As I said in the remaindered link comments

"I bet it scans your hard drive and reports all your stolen MP3's to the RIAA"

Which wouldn't surprise me in the slightest as it open up IP address when you search

JimOct 14, 2004 at 12:30PM

Technically neat but...

1. won't work with my firewall (Microsoft ISA). Google says I need the latest client which I can't find...
2. Only works with IE/Office - I'm partial to Firefox and OO
3. Does anyone know if it'll work with an Outlook / Exchange setup?
4. I am a bit concerned about what it would send to Google. As a developer I've got quite a bit of stuff on my PC that I'd like to think is fairly secure.

Jubal KesslerOct 14, 2004 at 12:32PM

It doesn't seem to index Thunderbird or Firefox, and I don't use MSIE or Outlook. I suspect there's a lot of us with similar configurations. I've uninstalled it and will wait for the update that supports Mozilla-based products.

EddieOct 14, 2004 at 12:36PM

I'll stick with Quicksilver, thank you.

jkottkeOct 14, 2004 at 12:37PM

I am a bit concerned about what it would send to Google. As a developer I've got quite a bit of stuff on my PC that I'd like to think is fairly secure.

But this is a general problem, not specific to GD. Who's to say that Microsoft or Apple isn't doing the same thing? This kind of thing is going to be a huge issue if we're moving toward decentralized data storage and management.

DougOct 14, 2004 at 12:49PM

Not to beat a dead horse, but it really does need Firefox/Thunderbird support. It's nice that it at least scans the html files on the system, though.

ZelnoxOct 14, 2004 at 12:51PM

I love the logo. Maybe they can change it to that second 'o'.

MikeOct 14, 2004 at 12:56PM

They REALLY shouldn't have announced this without support for the Mozilla apps. This thing is going to fall off the radar faster than you can say Jack Robinson.


I think you know why.

Sean MeadeOct 14, 2004 at 1:03PM

work around for OO: save files from here on out it in MS format. i'm thinking about it...

CarrickOct 14, 2004 at 1:03PM

Does anyone know if it'll work with an Outlook / Exchange setup?
Yes, it does.

ScottOct 14, 2004 at 1:04PM

I personally like the UI of Copernic's desktop search better and how it fits nicely on my bottom desktop toolbar. Copernic also searches web cache but hasn't delved into AIM, which is way cool on Google's part. The integration into web search is also an added bonus from Google.

jkottkeOct 14, 2004 at 1:05PM

Ok, we get that the lack of support for non-IE browsers is a pain for the early adopter audience. No more please. (Oh, and to clarify, GD works just fine in Firefox/Mozilla...it just doesn't search the history.)

Jeff SOct 14, 2004 at 1:06PM

it only indexes IE's history and I'm using Firefox. I'm hoping they'll add support for more browsers soon.

One way to index Firefox content is to add the Slogger extension. It logs and caches pages viewed in Firefox. These do get indexed by Google Desktop because they are stored as .html files.

It would be nice if Thunderbird email was indexed by GD but- I can make do with the integrated T-bird search for now.

Robert D.Oct 14, 2004 at 1:12PM

Unfortunately, I was unable to install Google Desktop Beta, because it is apparently totally incompatible with NOD32, my virus scanner. I use NOD32 because it has much better protection than Norton or McAfee and uses almost zero system resources.

Google is apparently aware of the problem and says they are working to resolve the issue.

Until then, I have to value my anti-virus protection over being able to search my hard drive quicker. I know where everything is, anyway.

Ryan SchroederOct 14, 2004 at 1:20PM

What does google get out of this? A little bit more buy in. I assume we'll see adsense next to the results eventually, but does that make any sense? I've yet to see a relevant ad in GMail.

CarrickOct 14, 2004 at 1:21PM

If your MP3 files have filenames that include the artist, album, and/or song title, Google Desktop can find them for you. It doesn't appear to index file metadata, just the filename. The same is true of PDF, JPEG, and GIF files.

ETOct 14, 2004 at 1:32PM

Google Toolbar
Google Deskbar
Google Desktop Search

Let the consolidation begin..

Thomas EdwardsOct 14, 2004 at 2:02PM

This does suggest however that Google may not have any plans to release instant messaging software, as this is supporting AIM. Seeing as Apple's iChat does as well, it's starting to look like MSN's days are numbered.

Ian FirthOct 14, 2004 at 2:41PM

Greg, you do realize is a loopback to your own machine right ?

jkottkeOct 14, 2004 at 2:47PM

I just looked at the source for GD and it's still ugly ugly tables for layout. Wouldn't it be great if it were all XHTML/CSS and you could easily skin it with your own stylesheet? People could write and distribute themes for it and everything.

Jim KellyOct 14, 2004 at 2:49PM

Thanks, Scott! Copernic rocks!

To Google Desktop: meh. The Google UI is great for the web, but on a desktop application I expect a richer UI. I've been playing around with Copernic for about a 1/2 hour and I'm already digging the results-as-you-type and preview window.

I think my biggest issue with Google Desktop though is my complete disagreement with Marissa Mayer's statement,"The distinction between the hard drive and the net is becoming blurred."

I make a huge distinction. My files are my files. Why would I want to give up any privacy in that regard (even sharing search strings in an anonymous context) for an application that offers no apparent improvements over existing free apps? So I can see an extra link on Google.com?

Chad BakerOct 14, 2004 at 2:56PM

Google should charge for this and then sue Microsoft for bundling a search feature into the OS.

ChrisOct 14, 2004 at 3:23PM

While I think the idea is neat, I'm overly thrilled with this until is has a plugin API so it can do IDv3 tags in MP3/Ogg files and things like that.

However, as a programmer, this has one huge coolness factor. I can search all of the help documents for all of the different languages on my machine. which includes 3 different Perl installs, HTML/CHM help files from internal projects, and source code and help files for any other programms I may have installed.

It certainly makes finding things in all of the header files of the Win32 API easier to find.

marnie webbOct 14, 2004 at 3:48PM

I wrote about some of this here:



Chris WoodsOct 14, 2004 at 4:05PM

I don't find Google Desktop anywhere nearly as helpful as X1. Google has brought a Web-searching paradigm to the desktop and the result is a very clunky interface. Compared with the real-time searching (think iTunes) that you get in X1, finding a specific document among the dozens of thousands on my hard drive requires me to plod through HTML pages--10 results at a time with--before I recognize that I need to refine my search. With X1, because I can see search results as I am typing, I can quickly edit the terms to get to the files I need.

Google does seem to have a nice thing started, but I would like to see a more native desktop-type app that takes advantage of more native desktop capabilties to make the tool more useful.

Scott JohnsonOct 14, 2004 at 4:36PM

It wouldn't be such a baby step towards GooOS if it ran on other platforms, was able to find data from browsers other than IE, was able to find email from clients other than Outlook, etc. I wish this thing would find my data!

Olivier TraversOct 14, 2004 at 4:40PM

I like the simple but elegant way Google Desktop integrates the browser with Outlook ("Compose" and "View in Outlook"). They don't yet index contacts, tasks and notes though.

It's interesting to see how Google might become a significant Microsoft ISV. If they play it right, and provided they want to give it a try, the two companies might even avoid going on a frontal collision course and learn how to work with each other. It all depends on a) how much hubris there is going to come from Google and b) how much paranoia is growing at Microsoft. The two might end up keeping a close eye on each other but still dance with each other when that makes sense, not unlike the uneasy but still workable relationships Microsoft has with, say, Cisco or IBM.

Just another anonymous kookOct 14, 2004 at 6:18PM

I agree with the first comment. The cached aspect sold it for me. And it's really, really fast which makes it even more desirable. Finally! I can find that obscure passage that I remember verbatim but, for the life of me, I just don't remember what the damn filename was!

JfrankOct 14, 2004 at 8:16PM

I found DG a very good app so far.
One big downside is that it can be installed by just one user per computer, but what the heck, it's been released today and in beta :)

I think that this day is very significant because of what google represents, and that the implications of this expected release are beyond enyone's grasp.

Joost SchuurOct 14, 2004 at 8:55PM

I can confirm that it works with Outlook/Exchange just fine.

Ross HillOct 14, 2004 at 9:29PM

For a beta app it does very well. Under the feedback link they already list Mozilla support as an option you can 'vote' for, so go ahead and vote!

As soon as it has a few more formats under it's belt it should be a good tool to have =]

Dave MahOct 14, 2004 at 10:33PM

A far superior way to search for files than using Windows. I'll keep it just for that. Can't wait for the Firefox and Thunderbird compatible version arrives

KrisOct 15, 2004 at 2:36AM

Been using it for a few days already. I like how it indexes only when the PC's idle.

Danny SullivanOct 15, 2004 at 5:57AM

Your browser cache has nothing to do with this. Google's making a copy of that initially. Then it's making a copy of everything you see independent of the cache. Delete the cache (heck, delete a file that's been indexed), and a copy's retained in your completely separate Google cached. But as you've since since, if you browser in Firefox, no luck getting that indexed without jumping through hoops.

PlanethalderOct 15, 2004 at 6:49AM

I love the web history search. Roll on GoogleOS! Planethalder.

PlanethalderOct 15, 2004 at 6:55AM

Oh, I've just read Google desktop only caches IE web history. Come on Google: Firefox cache please!

JoeOct 15, 2004 at 7:47AM

No thanks. I'm sticking with blinkx. I've just read Om Maliks review of the Google desktop and he feels the same:

Brandon PierceOct 15, 2004 at 9:22AM

Theories about whether or not this will come to the Mac desktop? My guess would be no - we already have Quicksilver, which is a spectacular step in the right direction, and when Tiger is released, Spotlight will be one of the biggest additions. Basically, I don't think the Mac needs this.

Paul SantosOct 15, 2004 at 10:03AM

My big question is, when will Google start supporting the *rest* of us still using Windows 95? You can't tell me that's an insignificant market. The screenshots look great, though. And useful.

Greg FahyOct 15, 2004 at 10:06AM

One really nice thing is how fast it indexes. I've tried blinkx and copernic and they seem to constantly crunch away at the disk using huge amounts of memory.

The biggest downside for me is that it won't index my network drives which I have configured as offline files on my laptop.

While the interface isn't as nice as copernic it does have that comfortable google feel. And being browser based I can use a Firefox keyword bookmark with the %s parameter so that in the URL bar i just type "d ". Since the browser is always open, search is always at hand.

Overall, very nice.

waylmanOct 15, 2004 at 10:23AM

At first I was excited, especially when I realized I could search email from Outlook/Exchange. You see, here at work I'm stuck using a sytsem I detest. To think I could access my email without opening Outlook was encouraging. But then, I looked at the system requirements and it only works on Win 2000 & XP. I'm stuck in 98 and it will likely be a few more years before that changes (by which time I hope to have moved on to better employment).

Mike CrasswellerOct 15, 2004 at 10:42AM

I think this is an interesting next step towards GooOS, but at the same time a frightening step towards one company having access to too much information. With the launch of GD, Google now can touch every piece of data on any machine connected to the net (assuming they install GD of course). It's going to be very interesting to see how they leverage all of the products they're putting out there. How will they all tie together and are they all part of a larger strategy? I kinda wish I had picked up google stock now.

PeterOct 15, 2004 at 11:18AM

I conducted some tests and it failed on two things. Secure files and Cross user switching.

Googe Desktop is able to search password protected MS Word Documents and you can open these documents too via Cache.

If your computer has multiple accounts, you can search your results from other Windows account (Tested on Windows XP). Take note of the address of Google Desktop Search (mine is and type that address while using other accounts in the system. You can then view your own results.

Other tests I am currently performing are on Secure folders and system/hidden folders. That is if windows folders that you don't have access to (protected via Security management) can be searched and if Windows folders and/or hidden folders can be searched.

Rasmus FreyOct 15, 2004 at 3:11PM

Try Blinkx does the same and much more but even better.... and the Mac version will probaly come out before googles.

Been using Blinkx for months now, and it's a time saver. won't even bother installing Googles version as it can't be better.


cfOct 15, 2004 at 5:03PM

as an avid mac user, ive got to agree with the Quicksilver reference above.. it rocks......and tons of pluginz....

TrevorOct 15, 2004 at 6:32PM

My big question is, when will Google start supporting the *rest* of us still using Windows 95? You can't tell me that's an insignificant market...

That the funniest thing I've read all day.

ETOct 15, 2004 at 7:46PM

Why are my personal results appearing on Google?

They're not, according to Google:

paul lawsonOct 15, 2004 at 8:37PM

What it is really good at is givng you 'snack city' e-references for the truckload of pdf. files you download and then wonder where, on earth, they came from, when you are writing the biblio/resources for an essay.


NoahOct 16, 2004 at 12:13AM

Blinkx was my last search solution, and although it has more functionality than GD, it really bogged down my computer with the indexing. Especially coming back from Hibernate mode on my laptop. I had to uninstall. GD is quick - me like.

GolightlyOct 16, 2004 at 8:50AM

*.* & e.g. *.qxd

If it doesn't support that then it's useless as I would need to use something that did support that as well as Google Desktop.

RainOct 16, 2004 at 12:18PM

I must say, this will be a killer app once they support more then the default apps (IE, Outlook, MS Office, AIM, etc.) But I cranked up IE for the first time in about six months and must say it the searching is impressive.

Something interesting is it doesn't search my gMail account... hmm.

Anyway, it'll be useful to me personally when it supports Firefox, Thunderbird, OO.org, and Gaim.) Would be nice if they would read the mp3 tags and index that as well.

Do you think this will make people stop worrying about file folders? "Save it anywhere, Google will remember where it is"

David KornahrensOct 16, 2004 at 4:57PM

I'm currently using the Google Desktop on my computer as well. It's fairly nice, but then one tends to wonder, what could they be doing with this information. I do realize that you can't search other people's computers, but could it be leading to that? I'm supposing that this is something people are pondering on before they download this. Especially the people who's privacy is already been explored online by the *hackers*. I agree that Google will lead the industry *www* within the next few years, and it's amazing how they are doing it with simple programs and such. Their *interface* is complete, but yet so simple. MSN and Yahoo are cluttered, Google isn't. They try and compete, but they can't until they take down those rediculous pop-up's and their horendous effects. Google= Power. Power= Success. I wan't some shares!

Mark GroenOct 16, 2004 at 9:33PM

Also pays homage to Microsoft in that you must have their latest and greatest operating system, won't work on my Win98 and there is no computer here running XP or any NT kernel.

No support for Firefox either, sorry Google - jumped the gun on this one.

Amit AgarwalOct 18, 2004 at 4:57AM

I changed my options to not show results from my desktop on the web search page but they still turn up:(


Susy JohnsonOct 18, 2004 at 10:22AM

It doesn't support Mozilla, Mozilla Firebird, Eudora. Blinkx by the way does, which is why I use it. It also seems to be a lighter app that GD. The best thing for me is the fact that blinks updates results dynamically as you type/click. GD seems bound by the traditional keyword approach.

shannonOct 18, 2004 at 10:31AM

I was getting the following error in firefox 1.0+ PR but after adding it to the network proxy exclusions it was fixed. Also you'll need to add 'slogger' to save the firefox cache. :)

The requested URL could not be retrieved

The following situations are possible causing this:

1. Cannot serve requests pointed to the proxy itself. 2. Using Browser Auto-configuration feature without enable this feature in proxy. 3. Using Browser Auto-configuration feature without download auto-configuration file onto proxy.

Please contact administrator if you have still question.

Generated Mon, 18 Oct 2004 14:29:16 GMT by (Application and Content Networking System Software 4.2.9)

Adam M.Oct 18, 2004 at 11:57AM

People interested in trying out Google Desktop Search should check out this article from PC World.

Tom Spring, a PC world contributor, was able to use GDS to find and read messages sent by users of public computers using web-mail applications such as Yahoo! Mail. According to the article, Google representatives were startlingly unconcerned by this.

You can turn off caching and indexing for specific domains (such as mail.yahoo.com), but given the level security-consciousness most users possess I think some domains should be disabled "out of the box."

ColemanOct 18, 2004 at 10:11PM

I don't know about this. I like the idea, but then again how do I *know* for sure that Google isn't mass storing my data? Hmm... Soon Google will take over the world haha...

JeffOct 19, 2004 at 12:52AM

Really, I bet this would be a great app. I can't wait for it to expand upon it's small list of indexed apps. The horse has been dead for days, but GD isn't of much use until it expands its horizons.

This will be something to keep an eye on. Whenever I choose to use Windows built in search function - well, I resent it. I can have a pizza delivered before it finds some old cover letter I've been looking for.

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.