Google Desktop Is A Warning To IT: Get Users Desktop Help

Yes, there's a security risk. But IT pros should also be worried about how soon employees will demand slick desktop search.
Yet at many companies, employees' needs for better desktop search will be more than IT departments can fend off. Google and Yahoo spend countless hours improving the responsiveness of their search apps by milliseconds, and users get addicted to that kind of performance.

Still, some IT teams think they need to move at a slower pace, even if that frustrates users. "We step carefully and slowly into supporting the adoption of any consumer-oriented packages," Ron Bonig, deputy CIO of George Washington University, says via E-mail. But Bonig is also a realist--he knows faculty and staff are using Google Desktop Search, even as the university decides whether to approve it.

The risks associated with Search Across Computers, which sparked concerns not only from Gartner but also from cyberliberties groups, revolve around the security and privacy implications of having data on Google's servers. Google is fighting a Department of Justice request for a large swath of its data related to Justice's enforcement of online child protection laws. It shows that files stored on Google's servers represent a tempting resource for litigators. But that's equally true for any sort of remote file storage service.

Meantime, Google's competition isn't about to cede the field. Microsoft's Windows Vista, due by year's end, also takes aim at desktop clutter. It will include a new search engine to more quickly find files on a PC's hard drive by typing a keyword from the start menu. Users will be able to tag documents and photos with keywords to help find them later. And a new feature promises to save searches. Also this year, Microsoft plans to add Windows Live Search to its and MSN Web sites to let users search the Web and their PCs simultaneously. Other desktop search vendors include X1 and Copernic.

Autonomy's acquisition of Verity last November is a clear bid for the high end of the search market. Other enterprise players--Convera, Endeca, and Fast--have similar ambitions. But Google's strong brand makes it an appealing partner. IBM offers a Google Desktop for the Enterprise plug-in for its business information platform on WebSphere.

Google's Business Plan
Google Desktop fits with the company's other business search tool, the Google Search Appliance, a hardware-software combination that starts at around $30,000 and lets business users search the Web, intranets, and internal documents. For users of the Appliance, or the Google Mini box aimed at smaller businesses, results from Desktop and Appliance will show up in the search results page.

But Google isn't much help to companies with substantial information assets in structured databases or legacy systems. That's a problem Google hopes to address through a new relationship with BearingPoint. The consulting firm will work with Google to craft custom search software for industries such as aerospace, finance, pharmaceuticals, and telecommunications. If BearingPoint can build bridges between Google and enterprise apps such as CRM and ERP, it would make Google's vanilla search system more appealing to companies with special informational needs. BearingPoint isn't Google's first cohort--more than 20 companies are partnering on new ways to apply its technology. Secure Elements, for instance, is trying to help enterprise Google users search structured and unstructured data in their IT systems for security and compliance problems.

Google has many admirers, but plenty of IT pros remain wary about anything with a consumer orientation. "I used to have a boss who said that three guys in a garage can do any IT project in a weekend," George Washington's Bonig says. "But it takes a whole lot more to ensure the product can integrate and play nicely with the other components of the IT architecture, be supportable, upgradeable." That's a reputation Google hasn't yet earned.