forbes.com | David M. Ewalt, 08.24.05, 3:20 PM ET
NEW YORK - Google on Wednesday released a new instant messaging and voice chat program, ending months of speculation over whether the search giant would enter the heated IM market. The company hasn't said how it might generate revenue from these services, which have been offered for years by competitors. But Google’s new services hint at a much larger company strategy to launch headlong into telecommunications.
In the future, Google's (nasdaq: GOOG - news - people ) new IM service, called Google Talk, could go a step further than competing services, allowing users to make and receive calls to the public telephone network; it would not only set the program apart from rivals but provide new revenue streams for the company. Google could sell calling-minutes to customers, who would pay for the ability to make cheap calls over the Internet.
Many of the company's recent moves support a major push by Google into telephony, including rumors that the company has already purchased unused fiber optic cables across the U.S.
Google's kept quiet about whether it is buying fiber, but in January the company posted a job listing on its site looking for candidates with experience in "identification, selection and negotiation of dark fiber contracts both in metropolitan areas and over long distances as part of development of a global backbone network."
In July, Current Communications Group announced that it had landed a $100 million investment from Google, Goldman Sachs (nyse: GS - news - people ) and The Hearst Corporation to develop broadband over power-line technologies, which would deliver high-speed Internet connections to homes over electrical wires.
Those investments would pay off if the company plans to handle large amounts of voice traffic. Google engineers have also been spotted attending a number of Internet telephony-centric conferences.
Google Talk is a downloadable Windows application that lets customers send instant messages or have voice chats with friends. It's similar to instant messaging applications from Yahoo! (nasdaq: YHOO - news - people ), Microsoft (nasdaq: MSFT - news - people ) and Apple Computer (nasdaq: AAPL - news - people ).
By distributing the program, Google could also cash in on its core business of helping Internet users find information, selling advertising space on those search results. Ultimately, Google could charge advertisers extra for a "call me" button, providing consumers with a direct link to call a business they find in a search. Imagine searching on Google for details about a local restaurant and calling for reservations without leaving your search results page.
The software is an important addition to Google's catalog, but offering IM and chat is just keeping up with the Joneses. The true promise of Google Talk --and the company's likely goal--is to eventually provide full telephone capabilities, and to make a user's Gmail address their primary point of contact, on or offline.
"In order for Google Talk to be successful, they're going to have to differentiate, and this is the logical direction," says American Technology Research analyst David Edwards.
By offering instant-messaging capabilities, Google only catches up with rivals at AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo. According to ComScore Media Metrix, in July, AOL's instant-messaging service had over 41 million users in the U.S. alone, Yahoo! had 19 million, and Microsoft had about 14 million. Users of those IM programs can engage in text and voice chats for free.
Other features of the new IM software show how the company is trying to make itself more ubiquitous in user's lives. Google Talk requires users to register with a username from Gmail, the company's e-mail service, and uses that mail address as the user's IM log in. Other IM programs don't require that--users of AOL Instant Messenger, for instance, might have a totally different IM name than their e-mail address, or might not even have an AOL account at all.
Also, this week Google announced Google Desktop, a free downloadable application that combines desktop search with a sidebar that links to Web searches and personal files. Future versions of the software could serve as a launching place for Google communications: Open up the sidebar, click on a contact name, and you can e-mail, IM or call them.
By using the same identifying name for several different kinds of communication, Google hopes to put itself at the center of all of its customer's communications. "Google wants to become the hub of your digital experience," says Edwards. "They want your Google address be the main point of contact for you."
Indeed, a user’s IM screen name and e-mail address is the primary reason they stick with a particular portal. It’s a nuisance to change your e-mail address and alert senders of your new digital whereabouts.
"They say their goal is to make the entire world's information universally accessible," says Edwards of Google. "It's easy to theorize about how they're going to make people around the world universally accessible, too."
Google Desktop Search Launched
searchenginewatch.com | By Danny Sullivan, Editor | October 14, 2004
Google has released a new Google Desktop Search tool today that allows people to scan their computers for information in the same way they use Google to search the web.
(...)"Our users have been asking for this. They say, 'Google is great, but why can't I search my computer the same way?'"
The tool is remarkable for its power yet simplicity. Rather than create a standalone application, Google Desktop Search seamlessly blends into Google itself. Those using the tool see a new "Desktop" link on the Google home page and search results page. Selecting this link brings back results found on their own computers.
In particular, the tool indexes the full text of:
* Email within Outlook or Outlook Express (notes, contacts, journal and to do list items are not included, nor are emails in the Deleted Items folder)
* Microsoft Word, Excel & PowerPoint files
* AOL Instant Messenger chats
* Web pages viewed online in Internet Explorer or any HTML file saved to your computer
* Plain text files
The tool also indexes the text within the file names of image in JPEG or GIF formats, giving it rudimentary image search capabilities. File names of Adobe Acrobat PDF content and names of some other file types are also indexed. Full text indexing of information in these files is NOT done.
Unlike with Gmail or regular Google searches, ads are not shown with desktop search results or content viewed through desktop search.
Using Google Desktop Search
Google Desktop Search is only for Windows XP or Windows 2000 users -- no news on a Mac version from Google, sorry. Once installed, the application starts indexing information on your computer in the file types it understands. At the moment, only files on your primary hard drive (the C: drive for most people) are indexed. Those on additional hard drives won't be searchable.
Indexing is fast and only happens when your computer is idle for 30 seconds or longer. Once the index is built, it is continually updated with changes on the fly. Get a new email? Visit a new web page? All this information is automatically recorded and made searchable within seconds.
"Our goal for the application is to have it behave as if you had photographic memory of what's on your computer," Mayer said.
How to search? A little swirly Google Desktop Search icon is shown in your Windows taskbar. Double-click on this (or right-click, then choose Search), and an Internet Explorer window will open with the Google home page on it -- or at least, what looks like the Google home page.
In reality, you're getting the Google Desktop Search home page. This is a page hosted on your computer, the home page of a local web server created to dish up what Google Desktop Search has indexed and found.
Do a search on this page, and by default, you'll search the contents of your desktop. A combined list of everything found will be shown, with little icons indicating if something is a web page, an email and so on. You'll also be shown a count in the reverse bar under the search box indicating the total matches, the number of email matches, file matches, chat matches and web history matches.
Each count is also a link, and clicking on them will narrow your search to one type of data. In other words, click on the count for emails found, and you'll be shown only matching email messages.
Phrase searching with quotes and term exclusion using the - sign, as on Google itself, is supported.
Awesome Automatic Caching
Any item listed will initially have a "1 cached" link after its file name. Similar to the Google page cache feature, this lets you see a copy of the file as Google has indexed it, without actually opening the file itself. So if you have a spreadsheet file, you see a copy of the spreadsheet without having to open Excel.
Each time you view something, a snapshot of what you've seen is created. Did you visit the same web page several times in a month? A copy of the page each time you visited is made. The "1 cached" link will change to reflect the number of copies recorded.
This is a fantastic way to keep a record of exactly what you've seen on the web and how you saw it, over time. On many occasions, I've wanted to go back and see how a web page may have looked a few days ago, a few weeks ago and so on. Tools like the Internet Archive have sometimes helped, but not always. The new tool Seruku is another solution, but at a small cost.
Now Google Desktop Search makes it easy to painlessly preserve your own archive of what you've seen and for free. It becomes, as Gary Price wished for last week, a "TiVO for the web."
In addition, the cached copies of your local files provides some automatic backup insurance. Make a change to a file, then wish you hadn't? Visiting your cached copies may help you get back some of what was modified. The data won't be in the original document format -- with spreadsheets, it can especially look weird, but some of what you grab may help.
Google Integration & Search Memory
Searching your desktop can be done by opening the special Google Desktop home page, as described above. However, I suspect many people will simply end up searching via the regular Google home page. I've certainly been doing that, in my testing so far.
That's part of the elegance of the tool. Once installed, the Google home page will show a new "Desktop" link. This effectively integrates your desktop into Google itself.
Do a web search, and any matching content from your own computer will be shown above the regular search results, in a OneBox display, similar to how news, product, local and book search results are shown. Any one of these OneBox display may also still appear below any desktop search results.
Should you dislike this integration, you can hide desktop results on a one-time basis by clicking on the small Hide link within the display. Using the Desktop Preferences option, you can also shut integration off permanently.
The integration means you can easily spot any of your own emails or data files that might also match something you seek from across the web. I haven't found that too helpful so far. But the ability to have relevant web pages you've previously viewed be bundled as part of Google web search results is fantastic. Its helps you find new things you want to view plus recover things you've seen before.
I've written recently that search memory features like this at a9 have gotten me to use that service more. Similar features released recently by Ask Jeeves and Yahoo are also compelling. Overall, I was beginning to seriously dislike Google for not having them.
Now Google's gained some search memory of its own. a9, Ask Jeeves and Yahoo's tools are more mature and feature-rich, but Google Desktop Search is a good stopgap for Google. It makes my searches there more personal, more useful and importantly, helps tie me in more to the service. In addition, I get the ability to scan for files and email on my computer.
The integration feels so comfortable that it makes me think desktop search tools from Google's competitors will have to have similar integration. A desktop search tab may become de rigueur.
From Physical To Virtual Desktop
Google Desktop Search is a further move toward what I speculated might happen in my Welcome To The Google Desktop? article back when Gmail was released.
In it, I suggested that Google might cause us to reconsider what we consider to be our desktop. Rather than it being tied to a physical computer, our desktop could go virtual, with files located on Google (or competitors), accessible to use wherever we are.
Google Desktop Search doesn't physically get us there. Our files still reside on our computers. But metaphorically, those running it now have their desktops moved to Google. There it is -- a little link right above the search box. Your desktop, on Google.
Forget the idea of Google as operating system replacement. This isn't a move that locks you into a particular platform for running programs and applications, as an operating system does. This goes beyond that. It locks you into something more important, your data -- and perhaps prepares you for trusting Google (or others) more with that.
Consider that down the line, Google might offer to mirror its searchable copy of your desktop data on its own site. That would be useful. If you're away from home, recovering all your data would be as easy as getting to a browser and searching on Google. Your desktop could become wherever Google is -- or its competitors, if they follow suit.
While Google may seem in the lead on this, others may not be far behind. The Yahoo desktop search product that's rumored might involve storage of files with Yahoo itself. LookSmart's Furl service recently expanded web page storage to 5 gigabytes and envisions allowing file storage and searching. Lycos UK last month launched an online drive service for file storage. And Microsoft itself has a long-standing Stuff I've Seen research project that could potentially expand this way or be bundled into the desktop tool planned for release later this year.
A Wish List
I've been running Google Desktop Search for nearly two days, and already it's proven itself a keeper to me. Having said this, and bearing in mind it's still a beta release, I've already got a wish list.
Most annoying so far is that you can only see 10 results at a time. Though the tool has a Desktop Preferences option, that doesn't yet include an option to increase the number of results seen at one time. Google said there's nothing to announce about potential changes to this yet.
Also missing is an advanced search page. On that, it would be nice to have drop down boxes as with Google itself letting you limit searches to particular file types, phrases or especially date ranges.
For example, getting back a long list of matching emails, then having to use the result page numbers at the bottom of the results list to browse to a particular date is a pain.
You can use some of Google's search syntax to get around this. To narrow to file type, use the filetype command. For example, this:
would bring back only email matches with the word cars mentioned. A list of known file types we've tested to date and found work are:
* Word: filetype:word or filetype:doc
* Excel: filetype:excel or filetype:xls
* PowerPoint: filetype:powerpoint or filetype:ppt
* Text: filetype:text or filetype:txt
* Email: filetype:email
* Chat: filetype:chat
* Web History/HTML Files: filetype:web or filetype:html
* Images: filetype:jpg or filetype:gif
* Acrobat: filetype:pdf
* Windows Media: filetype:wma or filetype:wmv
* MP3: filetype:mp3
For email, chat and web history, you can also narrow by clicking on the count numbers, as described above. As for images, Acrobat and other files, keep in mind that only text in the file names will be matched, not any meta data or actual text contained within the files.
Images, Acrobat, Windows Media and MP3 files are also not officially supported by the product as searchable content. While I did find it capturing some of this content on my computer, the bulk of it was not retrieved. Why some but not all of it was found is unclear, especially given that the index process appeared to have completed OK. But since this isn't even promised, I can't complain much.
Google, of course, purchased the Picasa photo indexing solution earlier this year. Perhaps it will be that Google Desktop Search will evolve some integration with that in the future.
Google Toolbar/Deskbar integration would be nice. At the moment, I can use the Google Toolbar to specifically search for just images, news, shopping, the web and so on. But desktop search isn't an option. Google says this may come for future versions.
A real personal wish is for indexing of content of compressed/zip files. I constantly zip up data -- right now, none of that gets indexed by the tool.
I desperately want the search memory features to mature. I want this tool -- or some other system -- to keep track of what I actually have searched for and track that in association with pages I've found. So far, Yahoo's implementation of these types of features are the best I've seen (but those at a9 and Ask Jeeves are great as well).
Certain parts need to improve, of course. I have two dedicated email search tools, my long-time favorite NEO and Microsoft's newly acquired free Lookout. I wouldn't give either of them up yet, because they can still do somethings better than Google Desktop Search. Nevertheless, Google Desktop has proved more than good enough for many of my queries.
That's going to be a key thing. For those who have no desktop search at all, this product is a great start down that road. It will be a major improvement for them -- and another thing that will tie some closer to Google.
Google Your Desktop
by Rael Dornfest
The Google Desktop is your own private little Google server. It sits in the background, slogging through your files and folders, indexing your incoming and outgoing email messages, listening in on your instant messenger chats, and browsing the Web right along with you. Just about anything you see and summarily forget, the Google Desktop sees and memorizes for you.
And it operates in real time.
And the point of all this is to make your computer searchable with the ease, speed, and familiar interface you've come to expect of Google. The Google Desktop has its own home page on your computer, whether you're online or not. Type in a search query just like you would at Google proper and click the Search Desktop button to search your personal index. Or, click Search the Web to send your query out to Google.
The Google Desktop is a Windows-only application, requiring Windows XP or Windows 2000 Service Pack 3 or later. The application itself is tiny, but it'll consume about 500 MB of room on your hard drive and works best with 400 MHz of computing horsepower and 128 MB of memory.
Google Hacks, Second Edition
Tips & Tools for Smarter Searching
By Tara Calishain, Rael Dornfest
Second Edition December 2004
Google: The Missing Manual, Second Edition Full Description
By Rael Dornfest, Sarah Milstein, J.D. Biersdorfer, Rich Gibson
Sure, you know how to Google it when you're searching for something on the Web. But did you know how much more you could achieve by clicking beyond the Google Search button? Our fully updated and expanded edition to Google: The Missing Manual covers...
Upcoming release scheduled for November 2005
New Google Desktop Search Wins; Google Talk Doesn't
Aug. 31, 2005 01:47 PM
(...)It still suffers from a basic problem, though -- it treats your PC as if it were the Web, and so you can't do basic things such as search within folders. So I now use two search programs, Google Desktop Search, and Copernic Desktop Search. For quick-and-dirty email searches, I use Google. I use Copernic for everything else.
Google Revamps Desktop Search Program
By MATTHEW FORDAHL, AP Technology Writer Mon Aug 22, 7:57 AM ET
SAN JOSE, Calif. - Google Inc. updated its software for searching PC hard drives and the Internet, giving the free program a new look and adding tools that deliver personalized information based on a user's Web surfing habits.
Google Desktop 2, available Monday as a public beta test, is the company's latest volley against Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc. (Nasdaq:YHOO - news) as all three race to expand their presence on PC desktops.
The latest Google offering includes several twists. Beyond providing search results, it monitors the user's behavior and presents relevant information in a resizable and moveable vertical window called the Sidebar.
One module aggregates e-mail messages from a variety of accounts, including Google's Gmail service or the user's Internet provider. Others display stock prices, personalized news headlines, weather reports and what's popular on the Web.
Another module pulls Really Simple Syndication feeds from Web sites that have been visited and offer that service. Unlike other feed aggregators, the user need not take any action for a feed to be added.
"For the novice, it's very easy. They don't even have to know what RSS feeds are," said Nikhil Bhatla, Google Desktop's product manager. "They'll just start seeing them in the Sidebar. Advanced users can go in and customize to their hearts' delight."
A photo module displays pictures from the local PC. It also pulls pictures from Web-based galleries that have been visited.
Some features, including personalized news, involve sending details of its users surfing habits back to Google. Bhatla said no personally identifying data is transmitted, and users can opt out.
The program has several tools for finding information buried on local and network drives as well as the Internet. The Sidebar has its own search box and it adds a new toolbar to Microsoft's Outlook e-mail program for quick access to mail messages.
After the initial indexing of all content on a drive — a process that takes place when the PC is not being used, subsequent indexing takes place in real time. That means a file can be found as soon as it's been saved to the disk.
The Sidebar's search box also finds applications, which can be launched directly from the results list that appears as words are typed in. It's similar to the Spotlight feature of Apple Computer Inc.'s Mac OS X and the built-in search of Microsoft Windows Vista, which is expected to be released next year.
Google, which has come under fire for making private information a bit too easy to find, said it has now disabled the caching of secure Web sites — an option that can be enabled if the user desires.
It also recommends against using the desktop program tool on computers in Internet cafes or in cases where many people share the same operating system account.
Google Desktop 2 also offers the ability to encrypt — or scramble — the index to protect it from being read by unauthorized parties.
The software works on computers running
Windows 2000 or
Windows XP. Mac OS X is not supported.