Google Desktop Search review

Google Desktop Search (GDS) has familiarity on its side, not only from the branding, but also the search-and-retrieval methodology. Working in exactly the same way as Google proper, GDS uses keyword technology and relevance algorithms to deliver results quickly and accurately. It even runs within your browser client (IE 5 onwards or Firefox) served up by a small, locally installed web server. This means there’s no learning curve, just the normal minimal Google search box. GDS also comes with a deskbar component that can be docked or left floating, providing search access whenever you need it.

You get support for Thunderbird messages as well as Outlook/Outlook Express by default. The ability to disable indexing of both password-protected Microsoft Office documents and secure HTTPS pages from the browser cache is welcome, but we find it odd that this isn’t a default setting. Equally odd is that you need to download a plug-in if you want to include your Gmail message base in your searches. The plug-in approach is made possible by the publicly documented Google SDK, which is just as well, as you’ll probably need to visit the download page a few times in order to get GDS working as you need it.

Initial indexing was quick, though, completing our 100GB of data in an impressive three hours, 12 minutes. Although no more memory intensive than other Desktop search clients, GDS is resource hungry, requiring at least 500MB of disk space. Our test search was completed in a quick 4.31 seconds, returning 276 results, but thereafter the familiarity turned to contempt, as GDS result filtering doesn’t perform adequately in the real world. You can toggle between date and relevance sorting, retaining the Google ten-item-list approach, or alternatively in overly broad-stroked categories such as email or files. There’s no filtering by document type or date range.

Naturally, the integration with Google itself is superb, with Desktop search results clearly displayed at the top of your normal Google results page. What’s more, the GDS cache indexes useful past revisions of documents within searches, which is great for recovering deleted files. However, even this double-whammy can’t provide enough functionality when balanced against the lack of an integrated file viewer to save GDS. Having to open documents in their original application wastes time, makes searching cumbersome, and makes GDS a less attractive option than its rivals.

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