Google Desktop review
These days, a good desktop search application is no longer a luxury. While there are plenty of hugely powerful, and often hugely expensive, corporate solutions to the local search problem, these don’t scale down well to the consumer desktop. Thankfully, there are plenty of free alternatives. With everything from indexing speed to impact on system resources being important when it’s your PC we’re talking about, we put the top five free desktop search clients through their paces.
Google Desktop promises much, but the actual delivery is a little slow. By including Gmail messages in the index, the initial building process took a staggering 23 hours, and even with the Gmail option removed it was still among the slowest on test. In use, we found Google Desktop to be comparatively slow too, and sticking to a familiar browser-based online search methodology is a mixed blessing. It may work in exactly the same way as Google on the internet, but don’t expect useful category filtering (just a long list sorted by date or relevancy) or integrated document previews. System resource usage was also quite high. Google seems to have put more effort in the rest of the suite, with the Gadget Sidebar offering a selection of newsfeeds, clocks and desktop games
Microsoft has done better, with the all-new Windows Desktop Search 3 (WDS) built upon the same engine as Instant Search in Outlook 2007 (see issue 148, p50). The interface is unchanged from the last version, meaning functional but not exceptional. Office application support is exemplary, document previewing good, and there are plenty of handy right-click options, including copy and print. Search refinement is better than Google, although it doesn’t provide the best levels of instant result information. Where WDS does score is in performance: it’s quick to index and return results, and system resource use is low too. We also like the attention to detail, such as when laptop battery life drops to 25%, the indexing stops to save power, and that the indexer runs as a system service. Ultimately, though, WDS remains average in this company.
Exalead has dared to be different with its One:Desktop product, most noticeably with the interface. Document previews show near-perfect formatting and, by moving the filtering and refinement to the sidebar, Exalead has created room for the presentation to dynamically adapt to the content of current search results. Navigating the interface soon becomes second nature. It’s also fast, summarising both structure and concepts from your results – you can, for example, refocus email results to one name (author or recipient) in a single click, with the sidebar changing to reflect that new content. The search technology is good as well, with options including Boolean, phonetic, forced stemming and even “approximation” that allows for letter substitutions in keywords. But high system resource usage, slow indexing and an index limit of 100,000 documents (unless you pay £34 for the Professional upgrade) spoils this utility.
Quick to index and light on system resources, Yahoo Desktop Search lets you fine-tune indexing by setting idle time-outs ranging from 15 to 240 minutes, although a simple throttling algorithm would be preferable. Having to download an extension filter pack to index all 300 file types is bizarre in this broadband age as well. The default double-paned interface looks a little messy but, once you configure it to your taste, it becomes hugely usable. It even lets you set different layouts for every file type, ensuring you always get the view you want. There’s an effective toolbar to refine results, and you can also highlight text from within a preview document.