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Friday, October 15, 2004
Digital Life: How Google Desktop Works, And How It Will Work
I dropped by Digital Life today for a short time, hoping to get some of my questions answered, and lucky for me I got just what I was looking for. I got to chat with Marrissa Mayer, Google's director of consumer web products, who has been the main source for much of the Google Desktop information seen these few days on searchblogs and in news stories. She was very helpful in answering all my questions, and what follows is what I learned.

As I see it, Google Desktop is not Google for the Desktop, but Google as the Desktop. For many users, Desktop will replace Windows Explorer as their primary means of navigating the hard drive. It's not just faster, it's a more accurate way of finding files. It eliminates the sometimes complex and unwieldy directory system, and, for file types it can read the content of, it can be hundreds of times more accurate than obscure and confusing filenames. So people who plan to use it heavily are probably wondering how its going to integrate with the other Google services they use.

As Marrissa explained, Google Desktop already integrates well with any application that already takes advantage of the Google search engine, because it integrates with the search engine. "There's some synergy with the Toolbar", she said, and others have noticed how much more powerful the Deskbar becomes when combined with Desktop. However, Google doesn't want to overburden the Desktop with too many features. "Sometimes , you wind up with something that does all three things, but none of them very well." She's right of course. The Ginsu software model has resulted in clunky products that can't do anything right. So, if you see a feature in one area of Google, don't expect a slimmed-down version of it elsewhere. Google doesn't want to duplicate features where it can't be used properly. Do your email in Gmail, not Hello, not Desktop, and not in the Toolbar. You can rely on Gmail for your email, or if you like, Google's okay with you using Hotmail.

That said, while Google isn't interested in replicating features in multiple places, it does want its products to work well together. The biggest complaint I've seen is that Desktop can read Hotmail and Yahoo Mail pages, because they are produced in HTML, but not Gmail, because it "is very Javascript heavy," Gmail users are out of luck.

Or not.

For Gmail users like myself, here's a bit of good news: "We should be able to search Gmail in the next few weeks". That's right, Gmail will work with desktop every bit as well as Outlook does, so don't despair, relief is coming.

Also, we spoke about the way Desktop indexes content. While PageRank doesn't apply to your computer, Desktop does make use of nearly every other method of determining keyword relevance Google uses, from titles to bold text. "The way queries are parsed is the same" she said. While Desktop uses many of the things Google search does, the underlying code is different, because Google runs on Linux, while Desktop is Windows-only, so "a lot of the code base had to be redesigned for Windows".

Also, I asked her about the Google Desktop Index, which resides on your computer at C:\Documents and Settings\username\Local Settings\Application Data\Google\Google Desktop Search. On my system, it takes up 355 megabytes, which is a small number, but will likely grow. Marissa assured me that "it actually maxes out at two gigabytes". The data can't go above that ceiling, so don't worry about it taking over your hard drive. Also, "for now Desktop is only for one user on the computer... the other person can't install it". If you use multiple usernames, only one can install and access the data while the others are plum out of luck. Obviously, they are working on fixing this as soon as possible. That's why it's beta, folks!

Three last points: Marissa states that "it's likely we'll do a a software bundle" in the future, so users can download all Google products in a single installer. Also, the reason you haven't seen any press about Hello is that "the Picasa team doesn't think its ready for prime time" yet, so they are continuously bettering the software. Works for me. I like it already, but if they want to add more advanced features, I can only like it more. And finally, for those who have been calling Google Desktop under the code-name "Puffin" for months now, including yesterday, you were wrong (and you know who you are). "Puffin" was the Deskbar, and that's been out for a while. Marissa wouldn't say what Desktop's code name was, but it sure wasn't "Puffin".

How about support for Firefox. Did you get to quiz her?
As for Firefox, so far I haven't experienced any problems. However, it doesn't check history or cache for Firefox, or any mail in Thunderbird.
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