Windows Search that doesn’t Suck

If you were recently in a temporary coma you may have missed the news about the release of Google Desktop Search, which leverages Google’s search technology on individual PCs by enabling quick and easy access to information buried in Outlook/OE email messages, MS Office documents, web history, IMs, and text files. After trying Lookout a few months back, I became totally addicted to actually being able to find email messages while I was still interested in the information they contained. I was eager to try out Desktop Search to see if it could do for other documents what Lookout did for email.

After the quick install, the product spent the better part of 2 days indexing the 55.8 gigs of occupied space on my laptop’s hard disk. However, unlike the porcine Index Server that comes with Windows, Google Desktop Search doesn’t peg my CPU trying to do its indexing work while I am in the middle of trying to my work. Instead, Desktop Search waits until I am not using the PC, so, while the process took quite a while, the impact of the indexing process on my life was nil. Once complete, the utility had indexed a total of 60,578 unique items.

The application sits in the taskbar as a tray icon, its local menu containing options to search, set preferences, and so forth. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, the user interacts with the application using locally-served web pages with a look and feel similar to that of Google’s web site. So, for example, selecting the “Search” item from the tray icon’s local menu brings up a local web page that looks a lot like www.google.com.

So, how good is it? Well, searching for the string “codefez” brought me to a results page containing 35 emails, 5 office documents, and 93 pages from web history in less than a second. A more complex search string, such as “+falafel -lino” gave me 533 emails, 11534 files, and 3535 pages from web history in about a second. How good? Damn good.

Of course, performance like this doesn’t come for free. The index files necessary to accommodate those 60,578 unique items occupy a total of 485 megs of disk space on my laptop. For me, this is a small price to pay for actually being able to find things on my computer based on their contents. Imagine!

On a related note, Microsoft has announced their intention to ship a beta version of a similar tool before the end of 2004. It will be interesting to see what they can produce, but whatever it looks and smells like one thing is certain: large, talented companies competing to build great free software can mean only goodness for consumers. Meanwhile, I’m sticking with Google Desktop Search.

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