The company that revolutionized the search of the Internet has now revolutionized searching your hard drive. Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG ) new Desktop Search utility is an incredibly powerful program that will keep track of that morass of documents, emails, instant messages, and web pages currently residing in your computer.
If you looked at it at some point, Google will remember it. This also raises the hackles a bit if you're in any way concerned about privacy on your computer. For example, if you IM someone, the conversation evaporates into the ether when you close the window. With the new utility, that conversation is preserved. It also bypasses user names and passwords, permitting someone to read Outlook and Outlook Express emails sent or received by someone else.
It's also a little disconcerting when you type in a word or phrase to search on the Internet and the first hits that come back are those stored on your computer. For example, I typed in "Google" on the company's home page, and it returned results showing there were 18 results stored on my computer, followed by the usual hits for news and web pages. It works the same if you have the Toolbar installed on your browser.
Yet even when you're searching the 'Net, prying eyes outside of your household can't see your hard drive. It's not a window into the soul of your computer, as it doesn't share the contents with its servers or other users. Unless you give it permission to do so.
Once you get past the privacy concerns and the creepiness of its search capabilities, you realize just how powerful -- and fast -- this thing really is. Forget Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT ) search function built into Windows; this is light-years ahead of files and folders. The results are formatted in a style familiar to anyone who has used Google, with the title of the document a highlighted hyperlink, a snippet from the document with your search text boldfaced, and the path where the document is located similar to a website's URL.
The only thing I wished for was that the path had been a link as well to take me to the folder where the document was located. That way it would make it an easy process to delete any unwanted, unneeded, or unnecessary documents it found. Still, since it provides the path, I can track it down and delete it. But harking back to the "creep factor," it doesn't actually delete it from Google. The title, description, and path are still there, and by clicking on it you get a message saying, "The file cannot be found. This may happen if you renamed or deleted this file." To get it gone, you need to perform a few more steps, but it finally disappears into the memory hole.
Undoubtedly other search engines such as Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO ) will offer similar capabilities soon. America Online (NYSE: TWX ) plans to introduce one later this year, along with a browser that runs on Internet Explorer technology, and Ask Jeeves (Nasdaq: ASKJ ) recently acquired technology that allows it to do so too. Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) will also introduce one for the Macintosh OS as the Google program is not compatible with it.
Privacy concerns and creepiness aside, ogling your hard drive with Google can be a real boon to storing, filing, and finding information.
Fool contributor Rich Duprey likes to ogle Krispy Kreme doughnuts. He does not own any of the stocks mentioned in this article.