Google updates desktop search tool

Google Inc. is set to launch on Monday an updated version of its desktop search tool whose enhancements include the ability to search the full text of Adobe Systems Inc. PDF files and the metadata of multimedia files, a Google executive said.

Until now, the product could only index the names of PDF and multimedia files, such as image, music and video files. But the new version improves on this by indexing the entire content of PDF files and the metadata of multimedia files, such as song and artist names in music files, said Nikhil Bhatla, a Google product manager.

With this version, the product officially exits its beta, or test, phase and is now considered a finished product that, as is customary for all software, will continue to be regularly enhanced. “We’ve taken the product out of beta because now we have all the file types and features that were high on the list of user requests,” Bhatla said, adding that by removing the beta tag, Google is hoping more users will feel encouraged to download and install the product.

Competition is fierce among providers of tools such as this one that let users index and retrieve information found on their PCs, a task for which few products existed until recently. Desktop search is viewed as an important area of the overall search engine market, because increasingly users expect to be able to find information on their PCs in the same way they find information on the Internet.

Although it isn’t clear yet how search engine vendors will make money from these tools, most of which are free, it is generally agreed that a user who becomes loyal to a desktop search product is highly likely to extend that loyalty to the tool maker’s Internet search engine. In recent years, the market for online ads that search engines serve up with their query results has exploded. However, a big challenge for search engine vendors is to find ways to foster loyalty among their users. Studies have shown users feel little attachment to particular engines.

Google introduced its desktop product in October of last year, joining Lycos Inc. and several smaller, niche players, such as Copernic Technologies Inc., X1 Technologies Inc. and Blinkx, which already had desktop search tools available. However, Google beat big search engine providers such as Microsoft Corp., Ask Jeeves Inc., Yahoo Inc. and America Online Inc., all of which subsequently released their own test versions of desktop search tools. Yahoo partnered with X1 and AOL with Copernic for their respective desktop search entries.

Other improvements in the Google desktop tool, which is free, are support for the Mozilla Foundation’s Firefox browser and Thunderbird e-mail application and for America Online Inc.’s Netscape browser and e-mail application. Previously, the product supported only Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser and Outlook and Outlook Express e-mail applications.

Moreover, Google is also releasing on Monday a tool kit for developers to create plug-in applications that extend the functionality of the desktop search product via open application programming interfaces (APIs.) The software development kit will be available at http://desktop

One such plug-in lets users index instant messaging (IM) conversations from Cerulean Studios’ popular Trillian IM application; the original version of the product only indexed IM sessions from AOL’s AIM service. Another plug-in that will be available later will let users search the metadata of music files acquired from Apple Computer Inc.’s iTunes music store, Bhatla said.

Soon, a third-party developer will create a plug-in that, using speech-to-text technology, will allow the product to transcribe the content of audio and video files and make it searchable, thus deepening the indexing capabilities of those files beyond metadata, Bhatla said.

Although this desktop search tool is designed for use by consumers, Google continues to work hard at developing a version that is appropriate for the workplace, he said. However, this new version does have one enterprise feature: It recognizes Microsoft group policy parameters on a PC and cancels its own installation if the parameters state that the Google desktop tool can’t be run on that machine.

Finally, Google’s desktop search tool will be available on Monday for the first time in Chinese and Korean, which means that the product’s interface, support and documentation have been translated to those languages.

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