Google Desktop 3 Beta review

With the biggest name in the search business, we had high hopes when Google first released Google Desktop. But it was a distinctly mediocre offering, as Microsoft and Copernic had already shown Desktop users how good things could be. Google Desktop 2 did little to improve things by introducing the largely superfluous sidebar. Unlike the dynamic overview of search content offered by the Exalead navigation panel, the Google sidebar is a Yahoo! Widget clone: animated clocks, image slide shows and maps have no validity in the Desktop search space. We had hoped that Google would have re-focused its attention on search with the release of Desktop 3 Beta, which became available just before we went to print.

Google Desktop 3 Beta review

The first shock comes with the system requirements. Google Desktop 3 demands a minimum 1GB of hard disk space just to install, and ‘no more than 4GB’ for indexing. At least that indexing process has been improved by the addition of, albeit basic, CPU loading control: as well as the previous off and on options, there’s now also a default ‘when computer is idle’. Whereas Google Desktop 2 was very slow at initial indexing in full on mode, this new option is positively pedestrian. Our 1GB of test data took 113 minutes, 38 seconds to complete. If you have a Gmail account, which can also be indexed, it would be best to leave your PC indexing overnight if you’re using a lot of your 2GB storage limit.

The building of the document cache plays a large part in the slowness of the indexing, but it’s a handy feature if you need to reference previous versions of documents. Wherever there’s more than one cached copy, documents are listed by date and time of the last file change or when they were copied into the cache if created after the initial index build. At least system resource impact is minor: 9 per cent during the big index and 6 per cent in general usage.

Elsewhere, previous gripes have been addressed with this latest version: a spell checker automatically checks your search queries for the most common word variants; ZIP support is now built in, including full content indexing rather than just metadata; and you can lock the search facility altogether using your Windows system password. There are also a couple of new search operators available: ‘under’ restricts the search to a specified folder, while ‘machine’ restricts it to a specific computer if you’ve enabled the ‘search across computers’ feature. And the new advanced search option lets you limit searches to email, web history, chat, files and folders as well as bringing date ranges into play.

Although Google Desktop 3 still can’t be installed over a network, you can search specified network drives by adding them to the local indexing locations you specify. Meanwhile, that ‘search across computers’ option lets you perform a single keyword search across multiple computers simultaneously. This stores index content for web history, Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations, PDFs and text files copied from computer A onto its own Google servers and then transfers it to computer B. This temporary copy of the index is deleted once transferred or after 30 days, but still leaves too many questions concerning privacy and protection from litigious individuals, government ‘requests’ and good old-fashioned hackers for our liking. It’s turned off by default, and we advise caution before considering changing this status. If sharing of search is important, try out the enterprise version of Google Desktop, which is now available.

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