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January 11, 2008

Search, No Longer the Main Feature of Google Desktop

If you install the latest version of Google Desktop for Windows, you'll notice a new dialog that presents a list of features and lets you select the ones you want. Google Desktop enables by default the sidebar with gadgets, but the search feature is limited to filenames. To actually search the full content of your files, you need to enable the "enhanced search".

This is a strange choice, considering that Google Desktop was built for this "enhanced search", which is now disabled by default. Here's the description of the application when Google launched it, in October 2004:

"Google Inc. today announced a beta desktop search application that enables users to search their email, files, web history, and chats. Called Google Desktop Search, this new application makes it possible for users to find information on their computers as fast and easily as they can search the web with Google."

The desktop search application added gadgets in the subsequent versions and was renamed to Google Desktop. "Google Desktop is a new, easier way to get information – even without searching. You can think of it as a personal web assistant that learns about your habits and interests to identify and present web pages, news stories, and photos that it thinks you will be interested in," explained Marissa Mayer the shift.

Maybe performance was the main cause for disabling search, or maybe users didn't think it was very useful. You can still enable the search feature both when you install the application and in the settings, but not everyone will discover it. I recommended Google's software to someone who needed a tool for searching his documents and I was surprised to hear that the software didn't work as advertised: obviously, Google Desktop didn't index any file.


  1. another step to make google desktop a true annoying spamware.

  2. Where is the Linux version?

  3. I like desktop. I don't keep much on my hard drive, so it's nice to find things easy when I need to. Plus I have nightmares about animated paperclips helping me. Probably just a personal problem.

  4. Maybe its the first step of google in revealing something else like it always does ;)

  5. Good point. Google is playing too much of the gadget game now and if you see the choice of gadgets, they are only few that are usable. On the other hand, the search feature of the desktop is excellent. My information is scattered across 3-4 computers and I can't keep the info neat and organized. That is why I have Google desktop installed on each of them. Thats the main function of the desktop and Google should concentrate on that.
    Somebody asked about Linux version, so here it is

  6. why Google desktop, not indexed custom folder and e-mail Location?

  7. Windows search (Vista) still sucks. Google should have stuck to the original concept of providing a better desktop search. This seems to be a surprisingly bad choice on the surface, wonder if there's any more reasonable motivation behind it.

  8. I tried the product and it was good. I still found X1 to be easier for me to search email going back a year. It's easier to breeze through the list and see each one without double clicking and starting back a few steps.


  9. I suggest they provide a dedicated desktop search app. Makes no sense to disable a function that's core to Google - someone is just toying around!!

  10. I just tried reinstalling and didn't get that prompt. (Though I didn't remove my previous version of Google Desktop.)

    The search wasn't very useful to me though I liked the sidebar and the program launcher. Launchy's turned out to be a better program launcher however.

    So these days it's just a widget program. I wish I could remove the "Google" search box at the bottom. I never, ever use it and could fit another small widget in there.

  11. There's been no proper integration with Google Apps for Your Domain (I couldn't get GDS to index my Gmail). I also found GDS too cumbersome to use for searching contacts in Outlook, so I switched to Copernic, which has been excellent.
    I agree that GDS seems to be a way of pushing gadgets, rather than a search product.

  12. I would assume this is a privacy advancement for people who don't want the details of a file searchable, possibly as a enterprise solution, or for people who don't wish to share the contents of a file with Google?

    Personally, I have Google Desktop installed on 2 Vista machines, however I do not use any wigits, or the sidebar itself, it's only a small icon on the task bar, which provides a much needed addition to vista!

  13. I don't know, but it's misleading to promote Google Desktop at the bottom of search results pages with:

    "Try Google Desktop: search your computer as easily as you search the web"

    and disable this very feature, by default.

    It's like going to one day and being redirected to the iGoogle page, with no trace of Google search box. You could still enable it in the preferences, though.

  14. The product failed.

    It's pointless on OS X 10.5. Spotlight works.

    Vista has built in search.

    Microsoft's XP Live Search is much better than Google's product (and I am NOT a Microsoft fan).

    Google is dumping local drive search and it's the right move.

  15. I use copernic desktop search more often then GDS & have noticed that CDS is better the GDS[atleast for me]..
    Now that google is devoting more time on the ornaments rather then the real search stuff, it seems the difference will only widen.

  16. I did used both Google Desktop and Microsoft's XP Live Search. I feel xp live search is much better than Google's product.

  17. Desktop search is another cup of tea totally. I would like to make a comparison to enterprise search here. Google has its search appliance dedicated for that. But there are other niche players in this field. One such player was recently acquired by Microsoft (FAST Search and Transfer).
    With desktop search it comes down to search among unstructured data and its no more about backlinks and relevance.
    Not undermining the great work being done by Google but the fact is that making a top desktop search engine does not sync with Google's vision - "Making the world's information universally accessible". Ofcourse, taking another view of it, making the user's information accessible from any place in the universe makes sense.
    The fact is that there are many other parameters that go into succeeding at Desktop search.

  18. I don't understand how exactly this thing works. Even if I have disable the mail search under the preferences, the toolbar still comes up the next time I start outlook.
    If I have all types of file search disabled and have the sidebar closed to tray icon, it can sometime still eat up upto a whooping 800 MB of memory on my system.

  19. "With desktop search it comes down to search among unstructured data and its no more about backlinks and relevance."

    This makes no sense. Of course it is still about relevance. It's just that desktop data has no backlinks. So Google cannot use that information to help its algorithms infer whether or not a document is relevant. But when you do a desktop search, a document still is either relevant or not relevant, no matter whether there is a backlink there or not.

    It doesn't make any sense to say that, just because backlinks don't exist, that search is no longer about relevance.

  20. The default way Google Desktop orders the search results is by the last modified date. There's also an option to order the results by relevance, but that's only an option.

  21. No, no, Alex. Step back for a minute. Even when sorting by date, the presumption is that the most recent documents, that also contain your query keywords, are relevant. "Sort by date" is shorthand for "Sort by relevance, but weight (multiply) all the signals in the relevance algorithm by 0.0, except for the date signal. Weight the date signal by 1.0".

    It's poor user interface design to write that big long sentence. So Google just writes "Sort by Date".

    But it's always about relevance. The definition of relevance is "finding what the user wants". "Sort by date" just gives the user one way of controlling the underlying relevance algorithm. But it's still all relevance.

  22. I've installed and almost immediately uninstalled Google Desktop many times. I WANT to like it, despite Google's best efforts to deter me. I just can't get over the stupidity of presenting data about local files in a static web page.

    At work I use Microsoft Live Desktop Search. The search engine is just fine, but the presentation layer is superior to all others, except Copernic which has always been the very best. However, I stick with LDS because of the tight integration in Outlook.

    Google Desktop is for people who like pictures of puppies on their sidebar. It's a toy. I take it even less seriously after they petitioned to force Microsoft to untether their Vista integrated search, only to cripple their desktop search application just before Vista's service pack comes out with that very fix. Apparently Google thinks their search engine is worth fighting for but not worth using.

  23. A big advantage of Google Desktop (for Google) was to get good user data. Perhaps, G feels like Google Web History provides enough personalization data and Desktop was just too much of a resource hog. I still wish, with all the info that Google has about me, they would provide some really phenominal personalization (opt-in of course).