First impressions: Google Desktop for the Mac
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First impressions: Google Desktop for the Mac

To put it in a nutshell, if you like Google for the Internet, you'll like Google Desktop. It offers all the advantages of Apple's Spotlight, and then some. Google Desktop for the Mac works with Mac OS X 10.4 and higher. Google Desktop is a Universal Binary app so runs natively on both PowerPC and Intel Macs.

Installation and use is a breeze. You install Desktop, and allow the software to complete a full indexing of all the files mentioned above. That can take a long time if you have a large hard drive (or multiple drives) filled with goodies.

After the initial indexing is completed the software continues to index files as needed (just as Spotlight does). You can start searching for files immediately after installing the program. Heck,you can start searching even before the indexing is completed, though (d'uh) the results will only be parsed from the indexed data. This one-time indexing is done in the background, so you can keep on working in the "foreground" while the indexing takes place.

After performing searches, results are returned in an Internet browser on the Desktop Home Page much like the results for Google Web searches.

When you do a Desktop search, you’ll see a list of search results. Each result, just like
Google web search results, includes the file name and a brief snippet with your search terms highlighted. There's a Quick Search Box that lets you do quick web and desktop searches and launch applications (yep, launch apps). Type a few letters or words into the search box and your top results pop up instantly, including applications. For example, you can launch iTunes by typing "itu" into the Quick Search Box and pressing Return when iTunes appears as the first result.

As Google points out, not everything you’re looking for lives on your Mac. So Google Desktop searches your Gmail (if you have it -- but I don't) and web history (whether you use Safari, Firefox or Camino) along with your hard drive. Because your index is stored locally on your own computer, you can even access your Gmail and web history while you’re offline. Nice.

There are a variety of ways to use Google Desktop to search your Mac. You can go to Google.com and click the Desktop link above the search box. This will take you to the Desktop homepage, your command center for searching your computer. Once there, all you need to do is type a query into the search box as you would for a regular Google search.

By default, Google Desktop Search orders results by "most recently seen" first. Just like Google web search results, each result includes the file name and a brief snippet with your search terms highlighted. There are also small icons on the left side of the screen; they indicate the file types for your search results and are designed as a quick visual clue to tell you what kind of documents they are. You can also filter for a particular type of item -- only email, for instance -- by using the links at the top of your Desktop search results page.

Google Desktop also helps you while you’re searching the web with Google. When there are useful results on your Mac related to your Google web search, Google Desktop will include these files with your search results. You’ll see Desktop search results along with those from regular Google web searches near the top of your search results page. As you would for any Google search, enter your query into the search box. Your query goes to both Google.com and to Google Desktop, and your web browser displays the integrated results.

However, during an integrated search, your Mac’s content isn't sent to Google. And the company says it doesn't see or record your Google Desktop results without your permission. If you want to hide a particular set of Desktop results (e.g., if you’re projecting to an audience), click the Hide link. Your Desktop results won’t reappear until you do another web search. To prevent Google Desktop results from appearing on your web results page, go to System Preferences > Google Desktop > Search Results and uncheck the "Enable Google.com integration" box.

Google Desktop creates cached copies ("snapshots") of your files and other items each time you view them, and stores these copies on your Mac’s hard drive. As a result, you can often use Desktop to find prior versions of your files or ones you’ve accidentally deleted.

To find a deleted file, use Google Desktop to search for the file you want. Find the file you want and click on the "Show cached" link. This should take you to a cached version of your deleted file. What's more, because a cached copy is stored on your Mac’s hard drive each time you view a file, you can also use this link to see all versions of the item that Desktop has in its cache.

You can also configure Desktop to prevent deleted items from appearing in your Desktop search results. To do so, go to System Preferences > Google Desktop > Search Results and uncheck the "Display results for deleted documents" box.

So far I've been impressed with Google Desktop. As I've only been using it for a day, I may run across some snafus. But my first impression is that it's worth taking it for a test drive.

Google Desktop for the Mac is currently only available in English at present; support for other languages is in the works.

 
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