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Google Releases New Desktop Search Beta

The new version includes a sidebar designed to personalize the application, with miniature apps that return information from news, RSS and Atom feeds, photo sites, and other information sources, based on the user's previous Web activities.

Google Inc. said today it plans to release a beta version of Google Desktop 2, the next iteration of its popular desktop search software for Microsoft Windows.

The new software aims to make search a more personalized experience with the inclusion of a Sidebar panel. The Sidebar features several miniapplications that return or retain information based on previous online activities. For example, the News panel displays links to news articles that are similar to ones you've read. The Web Clips panel automatically starts tracking RSS and Atom feeds from the Web pages you visit.

Other Sidebar panels include a Photo slideshow program that presents local and Internet photo sources (such as Flickr.com), an E-mail account monitor that works with Google's Gmail service among others, and a real-time stock price tracker. Additional panel plug-ins should be available over time as developers avail themselves of the Google Desktop APIs.

"We really want to enable people to just sit back and let the Web come to them," explains product manager Nikhil Bhatla, who likens the Sidebar to an intelligent agent.

Google Desktop 2 boasts expanded search capabilities, such as the ability to search network drives and Gmail accounts. It also returns search results from local files as soon as you start typing.

While this feature, called Quick Find, functions similarly to Apple's Spotlight search technology, it's intended to supplant Microsoft software. "Use Quick Find to launch applications without having to deal with the Start menu," the software's reviewer's guide suggests, as if dealing with the Start menu represented a burden.

Along similar lines, the beta includes an Outlook Search Toolbar, for those who want to search their E-mail without changing applications.

For those with privacy concerns, Google Desktop 2 offers the option of encrypting its search index, which is generated to speed searches. Doing so, however, will reduce the software's performance. The search software relies on the Windows Encrypted File System.

Google claims its software was built with privacy in mind and notes that "none of your content is made accessible to Google or anyone else without your explicit permission." It is however worth noting that Google Desktop sends a unique application number to Google once upon installation and during subsequent checks for updates. If you're already afraid you're under surveillance, this may be an issue.

Google Desktop is available in English for Windows XP and Windows 2000 SP3 and up.

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