Hack 45. Google Your Desktop
Google your desktop and the rest of your filesystem, mailbox, and instant messenger conversationseven your browser cache.
Not content to help you find things just on the Internet, Google takes on that teetering pile on your desktopyour computer's desktop, that is.
The Google Desktop (http://desktop.google.com) 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: it's like a photographic memory for your computer.
And it operates in real time.
Beyond the initial sweep, that is. When you first install Google Desktop, it makes use of any idle time to meander your filesystem, email application, instant messages, and browser cache. Imbued with a sense of politeness, the indexer shouldn't interfere at all with your use of your computer; it springs into action only when you step away, take a phone call, or doze off for 30 seconds or more. Pick up the mouse or touch the keyboard and the Google Desktop scuttles off into the corner, waiting patiently for it's next opportunity to look around.
Its initial inventory taken, the Google Desktop server sits back and waits for something of interest to come along. Send or receive an email message, strike up an AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) conversation with a friend, or get a start on that PowerPoint presentation and it'll be noticed and indexed within seconds.
The Google Desktop performs full-text indexes of:
Additionally, any other files you have lying aboutphotographs, MP3s, moviesare indexed by their filename. So, while the Google Desktop can't tell a portrait of Uncle Alfred (uncle_alfred.jpg) from a song by "Uncle Cracker" (uncle_cracker_ _double_wide_ _who_s_your_uncle.mp3), it'll file both under "uncle."
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, shown in Figure 4-39, 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.
Figure 4-39. The Google Desktop home page
But we're getting a little ahead of ourselves here.
Let's take a few steps back, download and install the Google Desktop, and work our way back to searching again.
4.15.1. Installing the Google Desktop
The Google Desktop is a Windows-only application, requiring Windows XP or Windows 2000 SP3 or later. The application itself is tiny, but it'll consume about 500MB of room on your hard drive and works best with 400MHz of computing horsepower and 128MB of memory.
Point your browser at http://desktop.google.com, download, and run the Google Desktop installer. It'll install the application, embed a little swirly icon in your taskbar, and drop a shortcut onto your desktop. When it's finished installing and setting itself up, your default browser pops open and you're asked to set a few preferences, as shown in Figure 4-40.
Figure 4-40. Setting Google Desktop search preferences
Click the Set Preferences and Continue button and you'll be notified that the Google Desktop is starting its initial indexing sweep. Click the Start Searching button to get to the Google Desktop home page (Figure 4-39).
4.15.2. Searching Your Desktop
From here on out, any time you're looking for something on your computer, rather than invoking Windows search and waiting impatiently while it grinds away (and you grind your teeth) and returns with nothing, double-click the swirly Google Desktop taskbar icon and Google for it. Don't bother combing through an endless array of Inboxes, Outboxes, Sent Mail, and folders, or wishing you could remember whether your AIM buddy suggested starving or feeding your cold. Click the swirl.
Figure 4-41 shows the results of a Google Desktop search for hacks. Notice that it found 16 email messages, 2 files, 1 chat, and 1 item in my IE browsing history matching my hacks query. As you can probably guess from the icons to the left of each result, the first three are an AIM chat, an HTML file (most likely from my browser's cache), and an email message. These are sorted by date, but you can easily make a switch to relevance by clicking the "Sort by relevance" link at the top right of the results list.
Figure 4-41. Google Desktop search results
Figures Figure 4-42 Figure 4-43, and Figure 4-44 show each individual search result as I clicked through them. Note that each is displayed in a manner appropriate to the content.
Click the "Chat with..." link shown in Figure 4-42 to launch an AIM conversation with the person at hand.
Figure 4-42. An AIM instant message
Cached pages are presented, as shown in Figure 4-43, in much the same manner as they are in the Google cache.
Figure 4-43. A cached web page
The various Reply, Reply to All, Forward, etc., links associated with an individual message result (Figure 4-44) work; click them and the appropriate action will be taken by Outlook or Outlook Express.
Figure 4-44. An email message
4.15.3. Google Desktop Search Syntax
It just wouldn't be a Google search interface if there weren't special search syntax to go along with it.
The Boolean OR works as expected (e.g., hacks OR snacks), as does negation (e.g., hacks -evil).
A filetype: operator restricts searches to only a particular type of file: filetype:powerpoint or filetype:ppt (.ppt being the PowerPoint file extension) find only Microsoft PowerPoint files, while filetype:word or filetype:doc (.doc being the Word file extension) restrict results to Microsoft Word documents.
4.15.4. Searching the Web
Now you'd think I'd hardly need to cover Googlingand you'd be right. But there's a little more to Googling via the Google Desktop than you might expect. Take a close look at the results of a Google search for hacks shown in Figure 4-45.
Figure 4-45. Google Desktop web search results
Come on back when you're through with that double take.
If you missed it, notice the new quick links "27 results stored on your computer."
Yes, those are the same results (and then some, given my indexer was hard at work) returned in my earlier Google Desktop search of my local machine. As an added reminder, they're called out by that Google Desktop swirl. Click a local result and you'll end up in the same place as before: all 27 results, an HTML page, or Microsoft Word document. Click any other quick link or search result and it'll act in the manner you'd expect from any Google search results.
4.15.5. Behind the Scenes
Now, before you start worrying about the results of a local searchor indeed your local filesbeing sent off to Google, read on. What's actually going on is that the local Google Desktop server is intercepting any Google web searches, passing them on to the Google web server in your stead, and running the same search against your computer's local index. Then it's intercepting the web search results as they come back from Google, pasting in local finds, and presenting them to you in your browser as a cohesive whole.
All work involving your local data is done on your computer. Neither your filenames nor your files themselves are ever sent on to the Google web server.
For more on Google Desktop and privacy, right-click the Google Desktop taskbar swirl, select About, and click the Privacy link.
4.15.6. Twiddling Knobs and Setting Preferences
There are various knobs to twiddle and preferences to set through the Google Desktop browser-based interface and taskbar swirl.
Set various preferences in the Google Desktop Preferences page. Click the Desktop Preferences link on the Google Desktop home page or any results page to bring up the settings shown in Figure 4-46.
Figure 4-46. The Google Desktop Preferences page
Hide your local results from sight when sharing Google web search results with a friend or colleague by clicking the Hide link next to any visible Google Desktop quick links. You can also turn Desktop quick-link results on and off from the Google Desktop Preferences page.
Click the "Remove results" link next to the Search Desktop button on the top right of any results page and you'll be able to go through and remove particular items from the Google Desktop index, as shown in Figure 4-47. Do note that if you open or view any of these items again, they'll once again be indexed and start showing up in search results.
Figure 4-47. Removing items from your Google Desktop index
Search, set preferences, check the status of your index, pause or resume indexing, quit Google Desktop, or browse the "About" docs by right-clicking the Google Desktop taskbar swirl and choosing an item from the menu, as shown in Figure 4-48.
Figure 4-48. The Google Desktop taskbar menu, which gives you the knobs to twiddle and preferences to set
When evaluating the Google Desktop as an interface to finding needles in my personal haystack, one thing sticks in my mind: I stumbled across an old email message I was sure I'd lost.
4.15.7. See Also