by Cedric Price
Google released the first version of their Desktop application back in 2004. This program allows you to instantly search your computer for specific content, just like you would normally search the web using google.com. It looks in your email messages, chat logs, media content, zipped archives and the web. But Google Desktop offers much more features than just searching through your local files.
The program can be downloaded for free at the official website (desktop.google.com) or at http://www.freesecuredownloads.com. It’s available for MAC OS X, Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows server 2000. In 2007, Google released the latest Windows version – 5.0.
The installation of Google Desktop is a straightforward process, requiring minimum user input. Just download the application from http://desktop.freesecuredownloads.com and run the installer. It will install the software and place a little icon on your Window system tray, and make a desktop shortcut. Once the installation process is completed, a browser window will open up, asking you to set up a few preferences. When you click on the ‘Set Preferences and Continue’ button, the initial indexing will start. Google Desktop is programmed to startup automatically with Windows. When your computer remains idle for more than 30 seconds, it will start to index the files on the hard drive, which depending on the size, could take up a few hours. Therefore, it’s maybe a good idea to leave Google Desktop do its indexing for one whole night, or when you are going out for a few hours.
According to Google, the recommended system requirements are at least 256MB of RAM and a 600Mhz or faster CPU. Although, the installer itself is quite tiny – just over 2MB, once installed Google Desktop can take up to 4GB of space on your hard drive for the indexing file (containing the location and description of all files found on your computer). If you want to check just how much space is the indexing file taking, go to C:Documents and SettingsUSERNAMELocal SettingsApplication DataGoogleGoogle Desktop Search, replace USERNAME with your actual username in Windows.
The interface of the application has undergone some dramatic changes. The latest version features a sidebar allowing users to personalize and customize the information they want to view, by clicking the title bar of a given panel and dragging it anywhere you want on the screen. The separate panels on the sidebar are called gadgets. To add more gadgets, point your mouse on top of the Sidebar and press Add. A new window appears containing the different gadgets that you can add alongside the existing ones. The gadgets are sorted in categories, so that users can easily find the right one. Removing a gadget is as easy as adding it, just position the mouse on top of it and click on the ‘x’ button. If you want to hide the Sidebar when inactive, click on Options and put a check on the Auto-hide feature.
By default, the Sidebar consist of the following panels:
-Email – connected with your Gmail account (if you have one). You have to enter your Gmail username and password in Options -> Preferences. The Email option gets automatically synchronized with Outlook or Thunderbird, so it will show you all new email messages, even if the email account is not provided by Google
-Scratch Pad – stores random notes
-Photos – displays all photos from My Pictures folder
-News – contains the latest headlines from Google news
-Web Clips – shows the latest posts from your favourite RSS feeds
The technology behind Google Desktop is called indexing. When you install the application, it indexes all files on your computer to make future searching more efficient. This makes the whole procedure quite faster than Windows' built in Search, because instead of going trough every file on the computer, it just scans the card catalog. A great thing about this indexing procedure is that it’s being performed when you are not using your computer, so that it won’t slow down the system while you’re doing something important.
GD can index and manage a large quantity of resources as Office docs, media files, zipped archives, email, browser history and even chat sessions. For security reasons, it doesn't index password protected documents and encrypted web pages, by default. Besides that, Google Desktop also tracks your activity while you are viewing web pages, files, reading and writing email messages. By doing that, it creates cached copes of the tracked information, so that the user can access it afterwards. In that way, it's possible to search and access data even after the file no longer exists on the system.
Sometimes you need to manually re-index your system, in case you have moved files around and made some substantial changes to your hard drive. To re-index, right-click on the Google Desktop icon in the system tray, click on Indexing -> Re-Index.
4. Google up your Desktop
To start a local search using Google Desktop, enter the query string in the field at the bottom (by default). Results will immediately appear in a pop up window as you punch in the symbols. When you click on a given result, the specific file will be opened with the respective application. For example, if it’s an email, Outlook will open it up, or the default email client. If it’s a PDF file, Adobe Reader will load. Of course Google wouldn’t be Google if you didn’t have all the filters available in your search.
-“exact match” – if you put the search string in quotation marks, Google Desktop will return only exact matches.
-site: - the site: operator it will produce results from the website that you specify after it. For example, if you enter ‘help site:www.google.com”, it will return pages you have seen in google.com containing the word ‘help’
-filetype: - let’s you specify the filetype of the of the results returned. For example, if you enter ‘google filetype:pdf’, it will return only pdf files that contain the word google in them.
-under: - allows you to restrict the folders in which Google Desktop will search
-machine: - if you are using Google Desktop to search through several computers connected in one network, with the machine operator, you can specify a single computer to look into.
A great thing about GD is that it allows you search thoroughly your emails. If you enter ‘Subject: searchstring’, it will return all emails with subject matching the searcstring. In the same way you can use the other available email operators such as – To, From, Cc, Bcc.
5. Inspector Gadget
The basic functionality of Google Desktop is local searching, but a lot of extensions are available in the form of plug-ins, called gadgets. Those gadgets are free of charge and can be downloaded from http://desktop.google.com/plugins, where you will see them divided into separate categories. The installation of those gadgets is absolutely a ‘no-brainer’, just click on the one you like, confirm and it will immediately integrate itself into your GD.
The programmers at Google have also released the SDK using which, you can develop your own gadgets and publish them if you want. You can download the Google Desktop SDK at http://desktop.google.com/downloadsdksubmit.
There are several gadgets that really stand out. The diGGGadget brings digg.com directly onto your desktop, so that you can easily browse the topics and categories. Another interesting one is the Dictionary gadget using which, you can look up any word when reading a web page. Just highlight it, press Ctrl + C to put in the clipboard and go on reading your text, the result will appear on the Sidebar.
6. The Timeline
The GD Timeline is like a diary of your daily computer operations, showing you a detailed list of everything you did, every file you opened, every website you visited, when you visited it, every email received in a minute by minute breakdown. Just double-click on the system tray icon of GDesktop and then click on ‘Browse Timeline’. You will see today’s timeline with the most recent events being placed on top. To filter out certain events, click ‘emails’, ‘web history’ or ‘chats’ at the top of the screen. If you want to clear the list (quite often it can get overpopulated), press the ‘Remove events’ link and don’t worry, this will not delete the corresponding file on your computer, it will just remove it from that list.
7. Security Concerns
There are a lot of security concerns surrounding GD. GD listens on port 4664 for connections to localhost or 127.0.0.1. When you have it installed and you open up google.com to search the web for something, you will see local results integrated into your search results, meaning that Google Desktop is transferring information to the server, hence an attacker could exploit it and gain access to a portion of the hard drive. To remove this insecure feature, go into Options -> Preferences -> Display and uncheck the Google Integration at the bottom.
For a secure download of Google Desktop, free of any spyware or adware, go to http://desktop.freesecuredownloads.com.