Google Desktop 2.0 Beta

Google's new upgrade to its Desktop application brings a lot more than search to your desktop.

September 8, 2005

4 Min Read
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Tallying The Tools
The default Google Sidebar setup includes nine different sections, all of which can be mixed and matched depending on your needs:

  • At the top is the Email tool, where you can set up email notification from Gmail or your default e-mail application (although the latter has to be running).

    Google Desktop's Sidebar

    Click to Enlarge

  • The News tool, according to Google, customizes content based on tracking your reading habits. My experience bore this out -- I found a good selection of headlines from Reuters, CNN, and a number of other high-profile news outlets.

  • Web Clips is the tool for RSS and Atom feeds; just enter your favorite feed URLs, and you're off to the races.

  • The What's Hot tool is a collection of the most popular news stories and other bits from around the Web. It's hit or miss, but some folks may find it diverting.

  • The Scratch Pad is a feature you may find useful. Here you can jot down notes that are automatically saved. Frankly, I simply reach for my handy analog notepad, but keyboard junkies may prefer Google's solution, because it's always open and it works as a nice alternative to Microsoft's Notepad.

  • The Quick View is another shot across Microsoft's bow. This feature gives you quick access to recent and often-used files and Web pages.

  • Of course, there's a Weather window that displays abbreviated reports for today and tomorrow; you can add as many weather locations as you like.

  • The Stocks tool is simple: You can list any publicly traded stock from the Dow Jones, Nasdaq, NYSE, and S+P 500.

  • Photos is an automated slideshow that displays a slideshow of images stored locally or from the Web. It's a nice personalization touch.

  • And lastly, waaayyyy down at the bottom of the Sidebar, is your desktop search window.

To Google's credit, you can customize your Sidebar tools, drag them into your preferred order, or turn them off individually (except for the search tool). If you just want the search, you can turn the Sidebar off completely and opt for a simple, small search window that either floats on your desktop or sits in your Windows Taskbar.

In Search Of...
Perhaps the biggest knock against the first version of Google Desktop Search was that it lacked any sorting features, aside from the obtuse “relevance” and somewhat more useful “date.” Thankfully, the new version takes care of that by sorting results by type. For instance, when I searched on the name "Jane," I pulled up 126 e-mails, 111 files, 13 cached Web files and five “other” files (that were, in this case, all contacts).

Once you've gotten search results returned, a dropdown menu lets you sort on a fairly long list that includes the standard text and html files but also includes video, graphics, and music types. You can even pre-sort your results manually by typing in the file type you want to narrow on in the search box. For instance, entering “jane filetype:doc” will display only Word documents with Jane in the text or title. The improved sorting, while a simple feature, makes Google's desktop searches many times more useful than it was only months ago.If you need to narrow down your initial results, you can click on any of the result. You can also sort e-mails by Sender and Recipient. In general, I found searches to be just as fast, if not faster, than other desktop search tools.

Google Desktop 2.0 Beta

Price: Free. Google, Inc.

A Stable Beta

The word "beta" has come to mean different things to different software vendors. Judging from this release, Google defines "beta" as "it's pretty much finished, but we don't want to commit ourselves to saying this is final." This particular beta seems to be very solid. Installation went without a hitch, and it indexed my hard drive's contents perhaps a bit faster than the previous version, even though the software only indexes during inactive periods so as not to slow down other tasks you're performing. I didn't find any bugs or hiccups during my test run.For business users, there is an Enterprise version of Google Desktop with centralized configuration and installation. This more corporate version also tweaks security with search and index encryption.

In my review of Google Desktop Search 1.0, I mentioned that there was open encouragement of third-party plug-in development. A recent glance at the developers' page revealed over 50 plug-ins, with about a dozen of those launched in August. Most are for the search function, but there are five for the new Sidebar, including an iTunes player and a simple to-do list.

Is Google Desktop 2.0 worth installing? Well, as with most Google applets, your mileage will vary. The search's new sorting features have made it a lot more comparable to Yahoo! Desktop or Copernic. And while the Sidebar tool doesn't really do anything “new” — there have been Sidebar-like applications around for years — it brings together a group of useful info tools under one smartly-designed and customizable interface. All of which merit at least an experimental download.

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