Yesterday Google quietly updated its desktop search and widget product, Google Desktop. Users who download the updated product (available at Google or here at Download.com) will notice two things. First, the widget sidebar is now flashier. Instead of using Google's traditional style (flat and boring), the sidebar now looks like it belongs on a Vista desktop (just like Microsoft's own sidebar). It looks good on XP, too. Google updated the graphics on many of its widgets to match.
Functionally, the big improvement is that desktop searches now get previews in the browser window. All results have little plus-sign expansion options, which, when clicked, pop a content window onto the page below the search results. It's much better than previous version, which only displayed search results in separate windows. However, for desktop search, I'm still partial to products that employ a good desktop interface. Google's browser-based approach makes for user interface consistency with its Web search engine, but at the expense of utility.
Google also added antiphishing technology to its desktop search. In our quick tests, we did not trigger any warnings or alerts. There's a bit more info on the Google Desktop blog.
What's unchanged: As far as we can tell, the Google desktop search technology itself is unchanged. The indexer is relatively fast and accurate, although I have had problems getting it to stay current on very large Outlook archives. The search-as-you-type pop-up results window remains, and it performs very well. Widgets can be dragged out of the sidebar and reside anywhere on your desktop.
But Google does not make the only good desktop search tool. My favorite alternatives are Yahoo's (the company bought the desktop search company X1). Recently I've been using the desktop search that comes with Office 2007. It's good, if not blindingly fast, and it integrates well with Outlook. If you're not going to use Google Desktop (or Vista) and still want desktop widgets, I recommend Yahoo Widgets.