Google is expanding the borders of its search empire into people's computers.
Google has its eye on home computers
The net giant has released a preliminary version of a desktop program that will search computer hard drives, as well as the web.
"We think of this as the photographic memory of your computer," said Marissa Mayer, Google's director of consumer web products.
Others like Microsoft and Apple are planning similar search tools to find information buried in a hard drive.
Search is becoming an increasingly competitive and lucrative arena.
Google is the leader in this area and the launch of a PC search tool is its latest attempt to become even more indispensable to its millions of users.
The desktop tool can be downloaded for free and lets people search e-mails in Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express, as well as files in Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and in plain text.
It also searches web pages viewed in Internet Explorer and instant messages in AOL Instant Messenger.
Google said the software was based on its internet search engine. It takes a while to index a PC hard drive, but after that the company says search results will appear in fractions of a second.
"It's pretty comprehensive," said Ms Mayer. "If there's anything you once saw on your computer screen, we think you should be able to find it again quickly."
Aware of the privacy concerns raised over its e-mail service, Google has sought to stress that the company will not be able to peer into people's hard drives.
"It's totally private," said the Google spokeswoman. "Google does not know what happens when the hard drive is searched."
Other desktop search programs are already available, from companies such as Enfish, X1, dtSearch and Blinkx.
But Google is the first well-known hi-tech brand to come out with a product.
Microsoft is aiming to release a PC search tool by the middle of next year, and others like Apple, AOL and Ask Jeeves are looking to come up with similar products.
Would you use a tool like Google desktop search? Have you tried products like this already? Do you have any concerns about privacy? Here are a selection of your comments:
By adopting the new Google personal search tool, are we not in danger of the same kind of monopoly of the search market for Google as we are with Microsoft for the desktop market? It seems many people are concerned about the influence held by Microsoft in the personal computing world, but Google dominating all forms of on and offline search holds the same kind of potential.
Lee Jones, Wales
I'm already using the beta version. I must say it works very nicely. I'm not worried about privacy concerns as the program is made by Google, and that for now is a trustworthy company. If it were Microsoft on the other hand (or any other company of the same repute) I would think twice before installing such a tool.
Ryan, Volendam, Netherlands
I used a desk top version of Autonomy software a few years ago called Kaijen. It brought up great stuff from the web and my own hard drive that was fantastic. If this is as good (and it works on Macs), it will be welcome
Stephen, Port Stewart
Another triumph for Google. Google is one of the few companies that can stand up to Microsoft, when are they going to release an operating system and give them a real run for their money?
I downloaded Blinkx earlier this week and already its indispensable to me. Automatic searches on file content is definitely the way forward. Only downside is that when Blinx finds your file it doesn't tell you where it found it.
Richard Stemp, Milton Keynes
I won't use Google Desktop search, since it isn't usable on the Mac. However, I will use Apple's Searchlight when it becomes available next year. I've used the beta version, and it's fantastic! I don't have a problem trusting either Apple or Google to get this right.
Ian Eiloart, England
I am at the moment using the beta version of the tool and I think its a great peace of software. Very easy to use and very neat on the computer. I have no worries over security as I use as much security software as I can including firewalls, anti-Virus etc. It's not up to Google to provide the security, its up to each person to make sure their PC is secure
Kenneth Ferguson, Isle of Lewis, Scotland
It's interesting to see people finding these ideas new and refreshing, unfortunately for truly innovative companies they often go out of business because of the strong armed nature of their competitors. Be Inc. used an incredibly advanced file system offering similar features in their BeOS operating system, and this was well over five years ago.
Matt Lacey, Oxford, UK
I downloaded the search tool this morning and have been happily searching my machine this morning. An astoundingly easier search than the built-in search. As for the privacy concerns as long as you read the fine print and have nothing to hide why worry.
Lee Brookes, Stone, Staffs, United Kingdom
I'm usually fairly organised when it come to storing files on my computer, but there are times when you just can't find a particular file. Often the standard windows search utility is awkward to use and fails to come up with suitable answers to simple requests and if you have a large hard-drive disk(s) this can take for ever to return any result at all. As a user of Google as my default search engine, I have always been happy with the no-nonsense approach to searching the net for what I am looking for, without being constantly bombarded by adverts and free/special offer links like you get with other search engines. I will be trying this utility on my PC at work first, then, if it does what it claims to, I shall install it at home too. I already use the Google Toolbar which is great at blocking a variety of annoying popups on webpages, whilst maintaining a simple user interface.
This kind of technology will become more useful as information gets more complex and diverse. The only downside that I can see to this kind of thing is that some companies releasing similar software might be tempted to use its capabilities for their market research and the like, thus further intruding into peoples personal information and internet habits, as anyone who has been the victim of spyware/adware will confirm.
Jumpy, Leicester, UK
There is no way I would allow such software on my machine. I don't know the ins and outs of how it would work but I just don't feel comfortable with the idea of software scanning what is on my computer to be used in an internet search. I feel that it is an invasion of privacy.
Phil D, Edinburgh
Failed to install on my Windows 98 machine, they don't support old operating systems! I thought this kind of program was tried years ago by Altavista but wasn't kept going. If I were more organised I wouldn't need one so I am trying Blinkx and it works quite well for me. There are potential problems with old slow systems struggling to get through all the clutter and I get different images previewed than the actual file, so it's not perfect. Surely this ability should just have been built into or added to existing Microsoft operating systems years ago as a better 'fastfind'?
Peter, Leeds, UK
I won't be using the new Google toy. Windows XP comes with a great tool called Index Server, when configured correctly it's the biz!
I have been using Lookout for Outlook from Lookout Software (www.lookoutsoft.com) for a while now and wouldn't be without it. Lookout was bought by Microsoft earlier this year, and this may have something to do with Microsoft's plans in this area.
Martin, Suffolk, UK
When I see a phrase like "as long as you have nothing to hide" (Lee Brookes, above), the alarm bells start ringing. Whether or not I have something to hide is my business and my business only. If the Google search program is physically capable of transmitting any data at all from my PC, legal or not, to the net, then it is insecure and I would not dream of using it. Only if it can be preventing from accessing the net for any reason should it be considered for use - and I would set my firewall to make damned sure it did not access the net, just as I do with any software from Microsoft, such as Internet Explorer or Outlook Express.
I use Google web search during my job at least 3-4 times a day. Google have become a household name, which for most people will give them the confidence to install such software. I look forward to giving it a try later!
Simon Harris, Poole, Uk
Jim Millen, Loughborough, Uk
I downloaded the beta version this morning but found that it slowed down my PC quite a lot. It may be a 'bug' that will be fixed but for now I have un-installed it.
James, Tewkesbury, Uk
I installed it, check the option not to send information back to Google and set it off. The first thing it tried to do was contact the web. Although I blocked it with my firewall I'm left wondering why it was doing that if I told it not to. OK so it was probably just to report it had been installed and I was able to block it but still if nothing else it was using up bandwidth and CPU I had specifically asked it not to.
Mossadek Talby, Geneva, Switzerland
I may use it, but only if I'm feeling lazy. I prefer to use the most powerful tool for the job, your own brain and a bit of organisation.
To Phil D, Edinburgh: You have misunderstood. The search results will only be available to you, nothing is sent over the internet, at least in Google's tool. But any piece of software you haven't written yourself could in theory do practically anything to your computer, and the data on it. It's a matter of trust. Do you trust Adobe not to send themselves your data when you create a PDF file with the word 'accounts' in it? Do you trust Mozilla not to send themselves logs of your web browser history? Do you trust Microsoft not to randomly delete files on your hard drive, just to spite you? Any of these could happen, but they don't, because the company's existence depends on it's customers, and they cannot afford to betray us.
Anonymous, Herts, Uk
I've used Enfish for quite a while and suspect I'll be jumping over to google, it is so familiar, fast and lightweight. I feel for Enfish. They'll go bust, Google have effectively put them out of business. Google need to tread carefully, their dominance could get them into some trouble.
Mark, Cranleigh, UK