Disputed Google PC search feature reaches enterprise

Google has released a version of its enterprise desktop search application that contains a controversial "search across computers" feature.

Google has released a new beta version of its enterprise desktop search application that contains a controversial feature for searching across multiple computers.

That feature, which temporarily stores a user's data in Google servers, caused a furor after its introduction earlier this month in the beta version of Google Desktop 3, which is aimed at the consumer market.

The feature is meant to let a user who has Google Desktop 3 beta installed on two or more PCs synchronize each application's index and make files' text available in all PCs. To carry out this synchronization, Google stores index changes in its servers for up to 30 days.

Several industry groups slammed this feature, which Google calls "search across computers," because of the temporary storage of data in Google servers. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, an online civil liberties watchdog, said it makes users more vulnerable to subpoenas from the government and private litigants. Meanwhile, research firm Gartner Inc. said it poses a security risk for companies, and might put them in violation of data-management regulations.

Not deterred by the controversy, Google on Friday release the enterprise edition of Google Desktop 3 beta, which has all the new features of the consumer version, plus administration and management tools for IT departments to control the deployment and use of the application.

The "search across computers" feature is disabled by default in both editions of the product, and the enterprise version lets IT departments make the feature unavailable to their users, said Matt Glotzbach, senior product manager for Google enterprise products.

"We recognize this feature might go against corporate information policies about not moving any information outside of the corporate network or PCs," he said Tuesday.

Gartner recommends that IT departments forbid users from installing the consumer version of the application and deploy, if they wish, the enterprise version, because that one can be distributed and managed centrally.

Like the consumer version, the enterprise version doesn't actually transfer files among PCs, but rather it updates the applications' indexes and moves the text of files. This means that users would get the content of word-processing or spreadsheet documents located in their other PCs, but not photos, audio or video content, Glotzbach said.

The new version also expands the functionality of the product's Sidebar feature, a panel that provides information from a variety of information sources, such as e-mail, news, weather, photos, stocks and syndicated Web site feeds. In the Google Desktop 3 beta, the Sidebar pane can be broken up into individual panels, which can in turn be placed in different parts of the screen. Another enhancement to the Sidebar is the ability to share content with other users by sending it directly to another person's Sidebar, via Google Talk instant messaging and e-mail.

More information and download instructions for Google Desktop for Enterprise 3 beta can be found at http://desktop.google.com/enterprise

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