One of the key benefits of using Google Desktop rather than the search functionality that ships with Microsoft Windows XP is its speed and online functionality. Vista has improved the built-in search, but for XP users, Google Desktop is a powerful search tool that does a much better job at helping you find things, even if they're online. This morning, Google released a version of its Desktop search client for the Mac operating system. Sure enough, the release has a lot of people asking why? After all, Macs have been shipping with Spotlight, OS X's built-in system-wide search since early 2005. What could possibly make this worth installing when a search function is already installed at an operating system level? We decided to give it a go with a Mac laptop lying around at CNET Labs, to see if it's worth using.
Google Desktop installs quickly and will index everything on your computer's hard drive in a few hours depending on how many files you have. Also included in the indexing process is your entire Gmail account. Not included is data from other Google services such as Groups, Calendar, and Docs & Spreadsheets. The app is managed entirely in system preferences, where you can set which drives it should index, as well as files or folders you don't want it to look through.
To search for something, hit the apple key twice in brief succession. This will pull up a widget that you can type your search query into. Results come up as you type, and pop up at about the same speed as on Spotlight. It's also worth noting that if you don't have Google Desktop running, the keyboard shortcut won't do anything.
One thing that Google still insists on doing is using a Web browser to display full results; only a few will pull up a few in the search box. If you don't already have your browser open, Google Desktop will launch it, which is kind of a pain. If you're looking for e-mails or Web pages, this can be handy, but for local system files it just slows down the process. Spotlight is much easier to work with, pulling up a detailed results box as part of the application.
Google Desktop for Mac is a solid download, despite the fact it requires users to be running OS X 10.4 (which has Spotlight search built-in). Mac users who don't have 10.4 yet have likely been using tools such as Quicksilver and Launchbar to find and launch applications, files, and media. The Gmail integration is neat, but we would have liked to see them add integration with the rest of its office suite to make it a compelling alternative to Spotlight.