Done searching the web? Now search your own PC!

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COMPUTING | Desktop search technologies will change the way we use our PCs, Ahmad Humeid reports.

With the growing amount of information available to us human, finding what want in the growing digital information haystack is becoming increasingly challenging. Information keep growing and, after all, there are only 24 hours in a day and no technology has yet changed that fact of life.

It should not be surprising that a company like Google, which is based almost entirely on the idea of searching and finding information is so successful today. Google, Yahoo, MSN search and other search engines have become as vital to our lives as telephones or even electricity. One only feels this when there is an internet outage. Such an outage hit the Google site a few days ago, as the site reportedly suffered from a technical glitch. For a moment I sat there in front of my screen paralyzed, not able to perform the next search. Then I switched to MSN search and got my searching done there.

But while searching the internet has become quite easy, thanks to the powerful search engines, another pile of information has been growing elsewhere that is not so easy to search, namely inside our own computers. Finding a page amongst a few billion web pages happens in seconds on the net. But searching through your growing hard disk can be a slow, cumbersome process. And that’s precisely why, for many leading technology companies, the next frontier is called ‘desktop search’.

But wait a minute. Is this really something new? Haven’t we been able to do desktop searches all along? If that is your impression you will change your mind once you try a new desktop search technology, such as Google’s Desktop Search.

When I first tried out a Google Desktop Search on one of our company’s computers I was blown away. You type your search query in your web browser (in an screen that looks very similar to Google’s web search). Hit the search key and within seconds the results start coming back. One glace at the results made me realize that this technology will change the way people deal with information on their computers. Google Desktop not only looks for file names. It delves deeper in the contents of emails, web pages you viewed, your photo and music libraries, Word and PDF document contents, saved chats and more.

When I did a search for my own name on my colleagues computer, back came old emails I sent to him and every document that mentioned my name. Clicking on a search result from an email opens the contents of that message in the browser window and enables you to reply to it. Hitting the reply button automatically opens Outlook. Cool!

Cached web pages can be viewed (complete with the search words highlighted in color) even when you’re offline.

The Google Desktop Search tool is free and is only 700 kb in size. If you are Windows XP or 2000 user I highly recommend you try it out.

Google is not alone in this field. Microsoft’s equivalent to Google Desktop is MSN Desktop search (part of the MSN toolbar which also features a popup ad blocker, a web form auto filler and other stuff). While I didn’t have the chance to try it out, several reviews that I checked out on the web seem to indicate than Microsoft’s product basically has the same search functionality, but with a slicker interface which, unlike Google’s, is not web browser based. So if you like the familiarity of a Windows interface then MSN Desktop Search is something you should consider.

Now, as an Apple Mac user, neither Google nor Microsoft have a desktop search product for me. But that’s ok because Apple has just released it’s new operating system, Tiger (OS X 10.4) which features Spotlight, a powerful desktop search functionality that is totally integrated with the OS. One of the features that I am looking forward to is that Spotlight enables the user to create ‘smart folders’. This means I can create a folder on my desktop that, upon opening, always contains, say, all my recent documents, mails and pictures that mention the phrase ‘Jordan Times’.

Spotlight even searches information that is usually ‘hidden’. A digital photo for example, usually carries with it information about the camera it was taken with as well as the exposure and shutter speed. Using Spotlight I can easily search through my thousands of photos looking only for pictures taken with my wife’s Casio camera.

For someone who’s computer is quite disorganized, desktop search is heaven sent help!


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