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Introducing Google Desktop for Mac
Pages: 1, 2, 3

Viewing Results in a Browser Window

Any search will only show a handful of results, but there will usually be many more found. GDesktop offers to show these extras to you in a browser window, which will look something like Figure 7.



Search results in a browser

Figure 7. Search results in a browser

There's a few things worth noting about this browser view.

First, it's not actually on the Web, it's been generated by GDesktop locally, on your Mac. It looks like a normal Google results page though. Just above the search box are links to Web, Images, News, and so on--clicking any of these passes your search request on to the appropriate online service.

The search results are broken down by rough file type--for example, emails, web history pages, files, "media" (it's not clear exactly what this applies to), and "others."

Email messages shown here might be inside Mail, or in your Gmail account. You have to look closely to spot the difference: a message in Mail will have a link saying "View message." A message in your Gmail account will have a link saying "View in Gmail."

Other controls that appear in the browser view are "Open folder," which opens the specified folder in a new Finder window; "Sort by," which toggles the results display between "relevance" and "date"; and "Show cached," which works a little like Google's own cached web pages. It will display the content of a file as saved by GDesktop last time it indexed that file. A warning at the top of the results page says:

This is one version of (chosen file) from your personal cache. The file may have changed since that time. Click here for the current file. Since this file is stored on your computer, publicly linking to it will not work.

Browser integration works the other way. With Google Desktop installed, a normal search from Google's home page will return a slightly different results page, shown in Figure 8.

Amended browser-based search results

Figure 8. Amended browser-based search results

The line "About 16 results stored on your computer" has been added above the list of expected web-based results. This is why GDesktop has to meddle with the darker corners of your system.

What About Quicksilver?

What about it indeed? There's little doubt that Quicksilver can do everything GDesktop can do and more, at least as far as desktop search is concerned. It can also do some pretty smart stuff with Gmail, too, but nothing like the offline caching of messages.

Is GDesktop any better than Quicksilver? I don't think comparing the two is helpful; they're like apples and oranges. Quicksilver is designed to let you work with your system by constructing "phrases" and "sentences." It is hugely flexible and with the right plug-ins, it can be applied to an astonishing variety of tasks.

GDesktop performs some similar functions but in a completely different way. It is a closed system, designed with webapps and web history searching in mind. It's designed for searching; Quicksilver is designed for doing.

Personally, I see no reason why the two apps cannot live side-by-side and be used simultaneously, each according to its strengths.

Limitations

It's hard to get GDesktop to not index stuff. At the moment, the only way is by adding items to the Privacy tab in Spotlight's preferences--an odd way for GDesktop to behave, especially given that in all other regards, it operates quite independently of Spotlight.

That independence is another issue in its own right. Why did Google choose to create a separate index, instead of simply using the existing Spotlight one that's already built and up-to-date on each Mac? The answer almost certainly relates to GDesktop's Gmail integration, which is one of the most appealing features of the whole thing.

It is possible to remove specified items from GDesktop's index. Having performed a search and chosen to see all results in a browser window, you'll see a link saying "Remove from index" toward the top-right corner of the page. Clicking this will reload the results page with checkboxes next to each one, and the instruction: "Select items to remove them from Google Desktop. The original files and emails will not be affected." This is a one-way action, though--there's no apparent means of returning a removed item to the index if you change your mind later.

Another downside is no apparent means of searching just your Gmail archives. You can narrow your search down to your email by using the query "filetype:email your search", but at this time it there is no way to distinguish Gmail from the rest of your email.

GDesktop does not (yet) index other data you may have stored in other Google web services. It cannot search your texts in Google Docs & Spreadsheets, web pages you might have created with Google Pages or Blogger, or events in Google Calendar. At the time of this writing there was a thread about this issue on the GDesktop forum; personally speaking, I'd expect support for these other webapps to come in future updates. It just wouldn't make sense to ignore them.

The Bottom Line

GDesktop does a lot of things, but not all of them are that new. Some can be done already, with different applications, plug-ins, and built-in OS X tools. You can already find files and launch apps with Spotlight. You can already reach Gmail via Quicksilver, or simply use your browser like most people do. You can already search your browser history (including the text of visited pages) with third-party apps like Webstractor.

But Google Desktop does some of these things better or faster--in my opinion, finding a file on your hard disk is much simpler using GDesktop than it is with Spotlight.

And it does some new things smarter, such as the trickle-mode caching of your Gmail account, with subsequent offline access to your messages, or the improved search capabilities it brings to existing apps like Mail.

On the other hand, the app's implementation makes some more experienced Mac users twitchy, for want of a better word. No one's saying that use of an Input Manager, for example, is in itself a bad thing, but some are saying it would be nice to be told in advance when it does. As one blogger at ansemond.com said:

Google Desktop installs itself as root: the index is at /Library/Google/Google Desktop/Index/(some directory which only root can access). This means it can access anything on your machine and do anything it likes. It doesn't need to and on a first date, I don't trust anything that much.

Don't let that put you off trying it, though. Google Updater does an excellent job of removing GDesktop from your system, so it's easy to give it a try and see what you think. And in the meantime, keep an eye on the Google Desktop forum for further discussion about features, possible problems, and updates.

Giles Turnbull is a freelance writer and editor. He has been writing on and about the Internet since 1997. He has a web site at http://gilest.org.


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