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Search & Destroy! 

Google invades Windows Country with its brand-new search tool Google Desktop Search beta version. Will it chip away at Microsoft's loosening grip over the Desktop and make space for upcoming Google browser? Dancewithshadows checks out. 


Microsoft has got another battle in its hands. After fending off challenges to its domination from Netscape and open source, the battle has come home, finally. On Thursday, Google unveiled the beta version of its tool to search computer desktops. Christened the Google Desktop Search Beta, the tool is a small program about 450 kb, which can be downloaded for free. Once installed, it automatically searches the contents of the hard drive -- network drives excluded-- and makes an index, which is referred to during searches. 

The program, with a twisted icon which sits in the system tray, keeps indexing new items as and when they are added. The initial search takes quite long (hours possibly, says the installation process). But the process is completely un-intrusive and does not meddle with your work. Leave your comp running at night and let Google Desktop Search do its job. Once the system has been idle for 30 seconds, Google Desktop Search starts indexing. Once the process is over, double-click the icon. It throws up a browser window, with the familiar Google search page. The only noticeable difference is an additional button called "Search Desktop." Type in your query and bingo! The results are displayed in the webpage, in exactly similar way to a web search. You don't need to be online to use the program. It works as well offline, just like the Windows search function. 

Google Desktop Search now works with Windows XP, Windows 2000 Service Pack 3 and above. Google has cleverly weaved in the same hassle-free search format into the Google Desktop Search tool. Google Desktop Search can search email contents, search history and instant messenger conversations. We are yet to try out any of these, though first impressions have encouraging. Logging the chat sessions is expected to throw up privacy issues. Let's wait and see how the program and its users tackle these issues. 

There are no ads so far in Google Desktop Search beta, though one cannot be sure the same will be the case in the full and final version. No one asks you to buy unwanted stuff (as in Yahoo and MSN) or "contextually relevant" stuff (like in online Google searches) 
Google seems to have caught Microsoft napping, though, after GMail and a planned GBrowser, a desktop search tool from Google was only a logical brand extension. The in-built search functions of Windows are supposed to be mediocre compared to the power of Google searches. Microsoft has been sharpening its MSN search for sometime and recently acquired LookOut, a search software company. Meanwhile, another Microsoft team is working on a completely different search tool for Windows Longhorn, the Next Big Thing in Bill Gates' operating system lineage. Longhorn is expected to be still about one-and-half years away. Before Microsoft could bundle a superlative search tool with Windows which would finish off search engine rivals a la Netscape, Google grabbed the initiative. Expect Google to eat up a good chunk of desktop search engine market by the time Longhorn comes packed with improved offline and online search capabilities. 

Google has invaded Microsoft's prime turf: the desktop. Said John Battelle, author of an upcoming book on search, "Search has become a de facto interface for the Internet, and I think Google has quite elegantly leveraged that presumption back onto the desktop." 
He said Google's clean and simple interface is a better solution to finding all the various files that Microsoft creates. While it's neither an alternative to Windows nor an interface on top of it, he added, "there's no question that this approach will eat into the amount of quality time a consumer spends with Windows." 

"MSN is making significant investments in search, and we will ship the product when we are confident it will meet the needs of our customers," a Microsoft spokesperson said. The company plans to release betas of the new algorithmic search engine and desktop search in the U.S. by the end of 2004. 

The bigger threat from Google could be that end users will turn more and more to hosted online services to perform regular functions, rather than using the Windows shell or Microsoft desktop applications. When Google is looking more and more like a thin-client company, that poses threat to Microsoft's core business model. 

But if the desktop is the new front in the war for the domination of search, the battle has just begun. As Microsoft homes in on the problem via the OS and MSN, rivals Yahoo, AOL, AskJeeves and even e-commerce-oriented Amazon offering their own versions. 
Though there have been many worthy predecessors to Google in desktop search programs, Google is the first company with an audience of millions to make the technology freely available. 



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