Google has improved its Google Desktop PC and Web search application by adding to it a panel that provides information from a variety of sources.
Google Desktop 2.0, which is in test, or beta, mode, includes a feature called Sidebar that gives users access to e-mail, news, weather, photos, stocks and syndicated Web site feeds, according to a Google press release.
"With Google Desktop 2.0, we want to help users sit back and watch the Web come to them," said Nikhil Bhatla, Google Desktop product manager, in an interview.
Until now, Google Desktop has been a browser-based application, but Sidebar doesn't need a browser to run, he said. Whenever necessary, browser windows will be launched from Sidebar to, for example, go to a Web site, or to access Google Desktop features not included in Sidebar, he said.
Sidebar runs on top of Google Desktop, so through Sidebar users can access any files and information that Google Desktop can index and retrieve, he said.
For example, Sidebar locates e-mail messages downloaded to users' PCs using e-mail applications Outlook from Microsoft Corp. and Thunderbird from the Mozilla Foundation, currently the only e-mail clients supported by Google Desktop, Bhatla said. Sidebar can also automatically download messages from Google's Gmail Web mail service, even if users haven't configured their Gmail accounts to download messages to their hard drives, he said.
Sidebar also customizes the content it shows users based on the Web sites they visit, he said. For example, if a user frequently visits a Web site that offers a content syndication feed, Sidebar will automatically subscribe and deliver via its interface the Web site's RSS (Real Simple Syndication) or Atom feed, he said. Sidebar also adjusts the news stories, weather information and individual stock data it shows based on a user's online activities, he said.
Users don't need to register with Google to use Google Desktop, so the Web history information Sidebar uses to personalize its content is tied to a user's IP address and a cookie, he said.
Sidebar also has a "scratch pad" where users can save notes and see a list of recently viewed Web sites, he said.
Another new feature is that if multiple users have individual Windows accounts on a single PC, each user can create his own Google Desktop index, which isn't accessible to the other PC users, he said.
Su-Li Walker, an analyst at Yankee Group, believes that Google, Microsoft and Yahoo Inc. have been busy developing and improving their respective desktop search applications but they haven't done much to market these wares to consumers.
"Most consumers aren't aware of these applications yet," Walker said. "Microsoft, Google and Yahoo all have quite a bit to do in terms of educating the consumer base about the use of these desktop search applications."
Another new feature in Google Desktop 2.0 is Quick Find, which lets a user search for files and applications by typing only part of a name, Google said.
Google Desktop 2.0 features a toolbar for users of Microsoft's Outlook e-mail client, which lets them search their messages and review results from within Outlook, according to Google. Search and indexing capabilities have been extended, so the software can now index instant messaging chats from MSN Messenger, as well as other Outlook data beyond e-mail, such as contacts, appointments and tasks. It can also index e-mail from Google's Gmail Web mail service.
Google has also expanded the APIs (application programming interfaces) available for the application, so that developers can create plug-ins for Sidebar. Users should check v to see a list of available Sidebar plug-ins, according to Google.
Google Desktop 2.0 is available now in English only although Google promises "additional language support to follow shortly." The free application runs on Windows XP and Windows 2000 Service Pack 3 and above and can be downloaded for free from http://desktop.google.com.