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Friday, October 15, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
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Google's fast new tool eats Windows' leisurely lunch

By The Associated Press

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SAN JOSE, Calif. — Google's Desktop Search application, technically released as a preview yesterday for Windows XP and 2000 PCs, uses the same algorithms that have made its Internet search engine fast, accurate and popular. At the same time, it makes Windows' slow, built-in search tool eat dirt.

The key to speedy searches is construction of an index of information stored on a computer.

Windows XP includes an indexing service, but it slows down the computer while it's running and is often shut off. If that's the case, the hard drive must be scanned for each search — a time-consuming process because hard drives can hold hundreds of gigabytes of data.

Google found a simple answer: index when the computer isn't being used.

Once the 400-kilobyte Desktop Search is downloaded and installed, it starts indexing the PC's main drive. The process, which only occurs when the computer is idle for 30 seconds or more, can take anywhere from several hours to a few days, depending on the volume of data.

After the drive is scanned, indexing takes place in real time with little effect on computer performance.

The index is a database scoured by Google's algorithms whenever terms are entered in Desktop Search. The technology, based on the company's powerful Internet search functions, is the program's secret sauce.

Most of the tricks that have worked with Google on the Internet behave the same way with the desktop search. Specific file types — Excel documents, for instance — can be searched by entering filetype:excel after the keywords.

The tool also supports more advanced search functions, such as excluding certain words with a "not" operator, winnowing results with an "and" or expanding what's returned with an "or." Searches also can be limited to specific Web sites that have been visited.

Google's local computer searches also integrate with the Web site. If the option is enabled, it returns local searches on top of what's on the Web.

Currently, the Google application only indexes the content of a handful of recognized file types, including Web pages previously viewed in Internet Explorer, e-mail sent or received in Outlook or Outlook Express, AOL Instant Messenger chats, plain text files and Microsoft Office documents.
It does find files created by unrecognized programs but only searches on the name, not the internal content. Those include music, picture and portable document format, or PDF, files.

The company plans to support more types of files in the future.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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