Desktop search becoming enterprise issue

Similar to the deployment of instant messaging (IM) within organizations, desktop search tools are starting to invade enterprise networks with little oversight by IT departments.

The spate of new search programs -- most notably Google's desktop search tool -- are finding their ways onto users' desktop computers for the same reason non-sanctioned IM software did: The software is very useful.

People spend vast amounts of time searching their hard drive to find files, e-mails, and Web pages they've already browsed that contain the information they need at that minute to do their job. Estimates of the amount of lost productivity due to searching for information vary greatly. A story from a few years ago pegged the time lost in large organizations as high as three hours per day per employee.

There have been days where I've spent at least that much time buried in a search for a tidbit of information, although I believe three hours per day per employee is a bit on the high side. (And it should be noted that that time was not exclusively spent searching for items on the desktop.)

Regardless of the exact estimate, there is no question that workers -- especially researchers and other people who deal with vast amounts of information -- need help. And there is a vendor rush to develop desktop search tools for the enterprise.

But people are taking matters into their own hands -- at least when it comes to finding information on their own desktops. Many people I've talked to over the past few months say they are using the Google Desktop search tool. Similar desktop tools are already available or coming soon from X1 Technologies, META, Apple Computer (with its Spotlight tool to be included in Tiger, the next version of Mac OS X), and others. And Yahoo and Microsoft plan to release desktop search tools soon, too.

Users are certainly going to grab these tools and install them on their corporate PCs without regard to consequences. But that could pose problems.

With IM, IT departments quickly realized that wide-scale use of the free software presented a slew of serious security problems, including transmission of messages in clear text, the ability for someone to masquerade as another person, and no means to ensure that an exchange that should be documented was actually captured. This led to crack downs on IM usage and the deployment of sanctioned software that offered more security.

History seems to be repeating itself with desktop search tools. The beta version of the Google desktop search tool has only been available for a few months and already there are some security concerns cropping up. Programs like Google's desktop search tool copy information during SSL-based virtual private network sessions. This information is then available to people who use the same computer at a later time.

This specific issue may not be a problem to every one or every organization. But it should serve as a wakeup call to IT managers that deployment of desktop search tools, as was the case recently with IM software, needs to be considered from an enterprise perspective.

Are the users you support deploying Google and other desktop search tools on their own? Are you concerned these tools might represent some security problems down the line? Do you have a strategy for deploying desktop search tools within your organization?

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