By Cynthia L. Webb
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Friday, October 15, 2004; 9:47 AM
Google Inc. unveiled a new search tool yesterday that's capable of scanning both the Internet and the files on a personal computer, beating Microsoft Corp. out of the gates and significantly raising the stakes in the search-engine wars.
The Associated Press didn't mince words about Google's new tool:
"Google's Desktop Search application, technically released as a preview
yesterday for Windows XP and 2000 PCs, uses the same algorithms that
have made its Internet search engine fast, accurate and popular. At the
same time, it makes Windows' slow, built-in search tool eat dirt," the
AP wrote. Ouch.
• The Associated Press via The Seattle Times: Google's Fast New Tool Eats Windows' Leisurely Lunch
"This is the newest extension of the browser wars," Jupiter Research senior analyst Joe Wilcox told the San Jose Mercury News. "Microsoft has to be worried." The newspaper noted that Google's "announcement
was widely viewed as a direct challenge to software maker Microsoft,
whose operating system controls most of the world's personal computers
and which has vowed to aggressively challenge Google's dominance of the
• The San Jose Mercury News: Google Unveils Personal Search (Registration required)
More from The Washington Post on Google's match point against
Microsoft: "Google Desktop Search offers what Microsoft has been trying
to develop for more than a year -- the ability to let people enter one
search term and see files relevant to that topic from both their
computers and the Web displayed together. 'This gives Google a huge
first-mover advantage in desktop search,' said Charlene Li, principal search analyst for Forrester Research,
a market research firm. She predicted the software would be especially
popular with heavy computer users, who store many files on their
machines and need help sifting through them. 'It's ironic that until
now, it's been easier to search 6 billion documents on the Internet
than it has been to find a single file on your hard drive,' Li said."
• The Washington Post: Google's New Tool Brings Search Home (Registration required)
The Los Angeles Times noted that "Google and Microsoft are moving
more aggressively onto each other's turf. Microsoft is planning to
release its own Web and desktop search engines by the end of the year
in an effort to head off up-and-comers like Google. Longhorn,
the version of Windows expected in late 2006 at the earliest, is
expected to let users search the Web and the contents of their
computers without having to even open a browser. So Google is trying to
establish a beachhead on the PC desktop first."
• The Los Angeles Times: Google Offers To Search Your Desktop (Registration required)
But the Microsoft-Google rivalry is just one piece of the larger
struggle over search. Google latest "move is expected to unleash a
flurry of similar products from rivals seeking to create new territory
for advertising," the Los Angeles Times said. According to the Seattle
Post-Intelligencer, "Some experts believe the new Google software may
foreshadow a day when Web-oriented programs become more tightly
integrated with the computer desktop, creating a new and potentially
more useful layer of functions between Windows and the computer user.
'The question isn't, "Will this make Windows irrelevant," because it
won't,' said search expert John Battelle, who is
working on a book about the search business. 'The question is, does
this point to an approach to operating systems and interfaces that
supercedes Windows in such a way that Windows just becomes an important
part of a stack?'"
• The Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Google Tops Microsoft With New PC Search Tool
The Wall Street Journal also noted the broader context: "With
Desktop Search, Google is beating its biggest Internet rivals to the
punch. Microsoft has promised new desktop search software by year end
and Yahoo Inc. has suggested it has similar plans, without confirming
any specifics. Ask Jeeves Inc. has said it will make available test versions of its desktop search software this month. Time Warner Inc.'s America Online
unit this week is adding desktop search functions to a customized
browser it has released for users to test. Microsoft said its 'search
technology efforts will compete through innovation' and declined to
comment specifically on any increased competition from Google."
• The Wall Street Journal: Google Software to Search PCs Takes Aim at Microsoft's Turf (Subscription required)
Ditto The Boston Globe: "Other companies have launched desktop search products. This spring, Spanish Internet company Terra Lycos introduced a free toolbar product for the Microsoft Web browser with a built in hard drive indexer. Copernic Technologies Inc. of Canada also rolled out a free desktop search program. Apple Computer Inc. has said that it will add upgraded desktop search to the next version of its Mac OS X operating system, code named Tiger."
• The Boston Globe: Google Search Program Gets Jump on Microsoft
CNET's News.com reported more details on America Online's search
efforts: "AOL's desktop search was not developed in-house but is
powered by a third-party's technology, according to a source familiar
with the plans. While the source would not reveal AOL's desktop search
partner, this person said it was not Google. The desktop search tool is
currently being offered as a feature within a test version of a
standalone Web browser that AOL is developing, the source said. AOL
spokeswoman Anne Bentley confirmed that the desktop search tool is being tested alongside the AOL Browser but declined to elaborate further."
• CNET's News.com: AOL Launches New Portal, Tests Desktop Search
There's a lot of money to be made here, after all. "There's billions at stake now," Danny Sullivan, editor of SearchEngineWatch.com, told the Los Angeles Times. "The battlefields are expanding."Nervous in Redmond?
The Wall Street Journal noted that Google's new tool "addresses a chronic consumer headache and extends its reach from the Web to consumers' hard drives. It moves Google more squarely into Microsoft's turf, because the software giant has dominated anything to do with hard-drive-based files and e-mail and plans its own competing product. Desktop Search also could help boost Google's revenue, because the company anticipates the product will increase consumers' use of its ad-supported Web search site."
The Seattle P-I offered this analysis: "Computer users have long complained that using Microsoft Windows to find files on a desktop hard drive is considerably tougher than using Google to find information in the vast reaches of the Internet. Google itself offered a solution Thursday, beating rival Microsoft to market with a free program for quickly searching by keyword through e-mail messages, previously viewed Web pages, archived chat sessions, word-processing documents and other files on Windows PCs. The long-rumored program, called Google Desktop Search, adds a new dimension to Google's competition with Microsoft by further blurring the line between Web-based programs and traditional desktop software, which revolves around the Redmond company's ubiquitous Windows operating system."
They're playing it cool so far at Microsoft HQ, according to The Boston Globe: "Microsoft said it was unconcerned that Google and other companies had beaten it to the punch. 'We believe that Microsoft and the rest of the industry have only scratched the surface on how search technology can help consumers,' said product manager Justin Osmer. 'Our focus is on helping consumers get faster, cleaner and easier access to the information they want, not what other companies are doing.'"Nuts and Bolts of Google's New Toy
More on how Google's tool compares to the chief competition: "The key to speedy searches is construction of an index of information stored on a computer. Windows XP includes an indexing service, but it slows down the computer while it's running and is often shut off. If that's the case, the hard drive must be scanned for each search -- a time-consuming process because hard drives can hold hundreds of gigabytes of data. Google found a simple answer: index when the computer isn't being used."
The AP also explained more about how the search engine produces results for both the Web and a computer's hard drive: "Once the 400-kilobyte Desktop Search is downloaded and installed, it starts indexing the PC's main drive. The process, which only occurs when the computer is idle for 30 seconds or more, can take anywhere from several hours to a few days, depending on the volume of data. After the drive is scanned, indexing takes place in real time with little effect on computer performance. The index is a database scoured by Google's algorithms whenever terms are entered in Desktop Search. The technology, based on the company's powerful Internet search functions, is the program's secret sauce. Most of the tricks that have worked with Google on the Internet behave the same way with the desktop search. Specific file types -- Excel documents, for instance -- can be searched by entering filetype:excel after the keywords."
The L.A. Times put it most simply: "For instance, a Google query for 'Lakers' will return not only Web pages but also every e-mail, instant message or Word document on the searcher's computer that mentions the basketball team."
USA Today provided more details on how Google's desktop search
ticks: "Google.com visitors who have the program installed on their
computer will see a 'desktop' tab above the search engine toolbar and
all their search results will include a section devoted to the hard
drive in addition to the Web. Google, the Internet's most-used search
engine, hopes to profit from desktop search by keeping more users at
Google and expanding the number of Web searches, where it can display
more ads. In addition, after downloading the desktop application ...
users track their files within the main Google page -- and many queries
will come back with small text ads on the side."
• USA Today: Google Expands Search To Desktop
Ironically, Google relies on Microsoft's Web browser to display results, proving the search wars are resulting in some strange symbiotic software relationships. "The new Google program works through Microsoft's Internet Explorer, letting people search either a computer's hard drive or the Internet via a single Google Desktop interface in the Web browser. People who install the Google Desktop software also will see an abbreviated version of their desktop search results above their Web search results when they make ordinary Google searches," the Seattle P-I reported.You Have No Privacy, So Get Used to It
Deep in The Boston Globe's article on Google's Desktop Search was this nugget: "Google officials said that no information from a user's hard drive would be relayed over the Internet and that no advertisements would be displayed during a desktop search." Brings to mind the whole privacy flap over Google's Gmail e-mail service...
Technology has trade offs, as today's Washington Post reminds us. Computer advances and other technology wizardry is weakening consumer privacy. Reporter Robert O'Harrow wrote about the trend: "First there were security cameras, sprouting like mushrooms on street corners and buildings. Then came shopper cards, offering discounts in exchange for details about buying habits. In recent years, we've seen the emergence of electronic tags or 'cookies' on the Internet, software that monitors e-mail, GPS devices that pinpoint our position on the planet, and a growing number of machines that capture finger- and face-prints. Now comes the news that federal regulators on Wednesday approved the injection of microchips under the skin, enabling physicians with the right gear to know who someone is without having to ask. And yesterday, the omniscient-seeming search engine Google bested itself by announcing a service to probe for information both online and in your own machine. One company official called it a 'photographic memory for your computer.'"
Richard M. Smith, a Boston Internet security
consultant, told the Post: "It's this whole new world. It's sort of
like all these little details about our lives are being recorded. We
love the conveniences. We love the services. But people kind of
instinctively know there's a dark side to this. They just hope it won't
happen to them."
• The Washington Post: Privacy Eroding, Bit By Byte (Registration required)
The Federal Communications Commission continues to make decisions that will almost certainly affect how and where you access the Internet. Yesterday, the agency gave the go-ahead for power utilities to begin offering broadband connectivity over their existing lines.
So how long before you can literally "plug-in" to the 'Net? Wired
News said it is "unclear, however, just how long it will take for such
services to become widespread. The Federal Communications Commission's
order also creates rules designed to protect existing licensed radio
service users from harmful interference from broadband over power
lines, or BPL, systems, providing more regulatory certainty for
electric utilities considering deploying internet service. It's all
part of an effort to encourage wider adoption of high-speed services in
the United States, which now ranks 11th among countries in broadband
penetration. Right now, cable modem and digital subscriber line, or
DSL, services hold a virtual duopoly over wired broadband services to
• Wired News: Broadband: More Power To You
Meanwhile, the FCC made an important ruling on another aspect of
broadband regulation. The New York Times reported: "As a further spur
to the rollout of broadband Internet services, the F.C.C. also ruled
that the regional Bell companies do not have to give competitors access
to fiber optic lines that reach into consumers' home - a decision that
prompted two of the Bells, SBC Communications and BellSouth,
to announce that they would move quickly to build new fiber optic
networks in residential neighborhoods. The ruling was criticized by
rivals of the Bells and consumer groups, which called it
anticompetitive and said it would lead to higher prices." The Los
Angles Times offered this color: "The FCC action puts the big local
phone companies in a much stronger position to compete with cable
companies for broadband customers, said Jessica Zufolo, telecom analyst for Medley Global Advisors in Washington."
• The New York Times: FCC Clears Internet Access By Power Lines (Registration required)
• The Los Angeles Times: Fiber Optic Rules Set (Registration required)
According to The Wall Street Journal, the broadband "decision, which
would let the Bells build fiber-optic networks to within 500 feet of a
customer's home, is likely to help the Bells in their drive to expand
offerings into television and video services to better compete with
cable-TV companies, which have been taking away phone customers. SBC
yesterday said it would accelerate its plan to build an all-digital,
high-speed network that reaches 18 million homes by 2007, two years
earlier than planned. ... The FCC's decision is another blow to AT&T Corp.
and other companies that entered the local-phone market through a
provision in the 1996 Telecommunications Act requiring the Bells share
their local-phone networks with rivals."
• The Wall Street Journal: Regional Bells Get Broadband Win (Subscription required)
Consumer groups are already balking. "The FCC today took our country
one giant step closer toward solidifying a two-company domination the
local cable and telephone providers — over the consumer Internet
market," said Gene Kimmelman, senior policy director for Consumers Union, as quoted by the AP. "Consumers will see their choices diminish and their bills skyrocket."
• The Associated Press via USA Today: FCC Approves Fiber-Optic Broadband Rules
Wireless Internet access in jetliners may not be a pie-in-the-sky
notion for much longer. "The good news is that U.S. domestic flights
could soon become Wi-Fi hot spots, letting passengers surf the Web at
35,000 feet as easily as they can at Starbucks. The bad news is that
federal regulators have been boxed into a no-win situation: promote low
prices and great features, or ensure the service works reliably.
Unfortunately, some industry officials say, it may be impossible to do
both," USA Today reported. "The Federal Communications Commission is
set next month to decide how to auction spectrum to wireless carriers
to bring high-speed Internet service to U.S. airlines as early as next
year. Proponents say the new 'air-to-ground' service would be more
economical for struggling U.S. airlines than current satellite-based
in-flight broadband offered only overseas."
• USA Today: Decision Looms On High-Speed Access Aloft
Filter is designed for hard-core techies, news junkies and technology professionals alike. Have suggestions, cool links or interesting tales to share? Send your tips and feedback to cindyDOTwebbATwashingtonpost.com.