Google Desktop beta 1

Why, oh, why do we need another application to search the contents of our Macs? Because not everyone uses search tools in the same way, and not all search tools work the way we want. Now Google is taking a stab at bringing its Google Desktop search application to the Mac, and even though this is the first public beta for the program, itis off to a good start.

Google Desktop works in concert with, and not as a complete replacement for Spotlight. It recognizes Spotlight plug-ins, and even honors Spotlight privacy settings. Unfortunately, it does not use Spotlightis index files - it makes its own. And depending on the speed of your Mac and the number of files it has to index, that can take a long time.

Google Desktopis simple interface.

The Google Desktop interface is easy to use and access: just tap your Command key twice. That also has the added benefit of not interfering with any other applicationis keyboard shortcuts, which is a downfall of Spotlightis Command-space shortcut.

Google Desktop returns your search results in a list, much like Spotlight does, but includes a Google-style short synopsis for each item it finds which makes it easier to pick out just the item you are looking for. You canit tell Google Desktop what order to return its results in, but it does learn from your choices and will start to group the items you are more likely to select at the top of the list.

Google Desktopis settings are managed though a Preference Pane.

During my tests, I found that I started to rely on Google Desktop for the searches I usually use Spotlight for because Googleis searches are far more responsive. The sluggishness I often experience with Spotlight was gone and replaced with lightning-fast search results.

If you use Safari, Firefox, or Camino to surf the Web, Google Desktop can search your Web history, which is great for research projects, and it can index your Gmail account so you can search for specific emails even if you arenit online. Text documents get indexed and cached, too, so if you accidentally delete a document, Google Desktop will likely be able to recover its contents for you.

Initially I had some serious issues after installing Google Desktop. My PowerBook slowed to a crawl, application stability tanked across the board, and mdimporter - the background app that builds Spotlightis indexes - crashed about every five seconds or so. The great people at Google were a big help on that one.

It turns out that if you are using the MailTags plug-in for Appleis Mail application, you have to use the current beta version (2.0 beta 9). Earlier versions are not compatible with Google Desktop. Uninstalling the older version I was using, and then installing the version 2 beta fixed all of my problems and returned my PowerBook to its normal operating state.

Even though the interface is sleek and shiny, I have to keep reminding myself this is a beta application, and some things probably wonit work right.

The Bottom Line
I typically avoid reviewing beta applications, but Google Desktop offers such a great search environment for the Mac that I felt compelled to share how it performs. Despite the rough edges that go along with beta software, Google Desktopis interface works the way I wish Spotlightis would.

One rough edge that still needs some serious polishing is the slow initial indexing time. Also, users should be able to set the order results, and I would love to see support for my new browser of choice, OmniWeb, added, too. And even though Google Desktopis current limitations and indexing performance earned it a "Solid" rating, I bet it will perform even better once the Google coders finish working their magic.

Once Google Desktop emerges from beta testing and becomes an official version 1 application, I have a feeling it will be a must-have tool for most Mac users.

Product: Google Desktop beta 1

List Price: Free


Pros: Fast searches, nice interface, compatible with Spotlight plug-ins.
Cons: Adds its own data index file, slooooow indexing, no OmniWeb support.