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Google Debuts Desktop Search Tool

Google unveiled a desktop search agent yesterday that lets users find any information stored on their computer, including visited Web pages, files and e-mail as well as instant messages.

Google Desktop requires users to download software that organizes their computer files into a searchable index of Web pages viewed, Microsoft Office files, Outlook and Outlook Express e-mails and AOL instant messages. Results are organized by the last time the file was viewed. Users can sort results by document type.

Google will perform parallel desktop searches for Web queries, and relevant desktop results will be included on Web results pages. Google Desktop updates its index of computer files constantly while the computer is operating but idle.

Google Desktop, available for free, does not carry paid listings, as the product is still in testing. The company thinks desktop search will drive more users to its Web search engine since it will include desktop results it finds related to Web searches. Those results include paid listings, while searches specifically on Google Desktop currently do not.

Marissa Mayer, Google's director of consumer Web products, said Google would test the product and make improvements before it considers adding paid listings. Because desktop search results are embedded with regular searches, however, it could help drive more search volume as users turn to Google for accessing a wide array of information.

“The true value to Google is that it makes Google a part of people's daily life even more than it is now,” said Kevin Lee, CEO of Did-it.com, a New York search marketing firm. “It makes Google synonymous with searching.”

If it adds paid listings to Google Desktop, Google will expand its increasingly diverse outlets for its paid listings. In addition to showing ads tied to Web searches, Google displays content ads on thousands of Web sites and next to e-mail messages in its Gmail Web e-mail system. Google introduced a Smart Pricing system in April to adjust the pricing of ads in different environments in an attempt to account for lower conversion rates for some listings.

With the release of Google Desktop, the Mountain View, CA, company one-ups Microsoft, which is developing a desktop search engine of its own. Microsoft does not expect to release its desktop search capability for another two years. Ask Jeeves also plans to release its own desktop search capability, based on technology obtained in its June acquisition of Tuckaroo. AOL is also reported to have plans in the area.

Google has moved to expand beyond Web search to accomplish its stated mission to “organize the world's information and make it accessible and useful.” In addition to a searchable e-mail system, the company last week launched Google Print, which lets users search the content of books.

“We think that the items on your desktop and hard drive should be as easy to find as items on the Web,” Mayer said.

Stung by the privacy uproar over Gmail's introduction, Google has taken pains to allay any similar concerns with the release of Google Desktop. Google's privacy policy makes clear that the company does not store on its servers the information it indexes or match it with personal information. Google Desktop lets users identify information they do not want indexed through a “remove items” button on results pages and through a preferences tab. It also lets users stop desktop results from appearing with Web searches.

“This is obviously the most personal information Google has ever dealt with,” Mayer said. “We know privacy is very important.”

Google said it is working to include more types of information to index in Google Desktop. For now, visited Web pages are available only for sites viewed through the Internet Explorer browser, and only AOL IM messages can be stored. Mayer said Google would work to add other information sources, including Gmail messages, PDF files and chat sessions through other IM providers.

Fredrick Marckini, CEO of search marketing firm iProspect, Watertown, MA, said widespread use of desktop search could further expand the sophistication of consumer searches, from two- and three-word queries to more with five or six.

“It may hasten the speed at which advertisers will have to increase the total universe of keywords they are targeting,” he said.

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