Once Google Desktop 2 is open, the Sidebar appears in a narrow column within the right-hand edge of your screen. The gray interface is subtle and sparse, given its bevy of content. Modules include Photos, Maps, plug-ins to add more panels that display a PC system monitor, a calendar, content from iTunes, your American Express transactions, and more. Click any panel to expand details to the left of it. Click Maps to extend a miniwindow, where you can type in a search that opens a browser window to Google Local. To hide the Sidebar, click the top drop-down arrow to display the search box either as the Deskbar on the bottom of your screen or as the Floating Deskbar., Email, News, Web Clips, Scratch Pad, Stocks, and Weather. To date, you can pick from hundreds of
Desktop 2 lets you reject Sidebar features that might betray your secrets to passersby who glance at your screen. For example, Sidebar shuffles through recent photos, which could embarrass you, say, if snapshots of last weekend's costume party from your friend's Flickr account pop up at the office. To hide the Photos panel or other potentially sensitive portals, such as Email, just open the Add/Remove Panels window from the Sidebar's uppermost drop-down menu. You can also visit Options to filter content--helpful if you want to keep the Email module open but want to block certain messages from appearing.
Because we allowed Advanced Features to track our Web-surfing habits, Sidebar rotated through our content, with mixed results. Google says that Desktop 2 will reflect your surfing patterns within a day. Indeed, we found that the News portal displayed a host of tech stories from business publications after we spent an afternoon reading up on related subjects. Unfortunately, you can't tweak that content yourself or integrate with, even though the News feature scans XML feeds.
The Maps panel provides a slide show based on locations and zip codes mentioned within the Web sites you visit. It was novel to see towns in Poland, China, and Saudi Arabia appear. Unfortunately, we hoped and tried but failed to find businesses (such as "restaurant, 94110") directly within the Sidebar; instead, we had to open a browser window. We ran into other quirks: the What's Hot panel displayed items that we had removed the previous day. And we found the learning curve steep for managing the random picks displayed by the Photos box.
Happily, Google Desktop Search made it a snap to find buried e-mail and lost documents. We like that the search bar provides a shortcut to other apps; for example, type in fir to immediately open Firefox. But unlike Yahoo Desktop Search, Google's search tool doesn't organize data into handy tabs.
Google provides a thorough online knowledge base; we found the getting-started and troubleshooting sections well written and helpful. You can also ask questions via a Web-based form. We sent a query and received an immediate autoreply that stated, "We're putting most of our energy into improving Google Desktop, so we can't promise a personal reply to every message." Users of Google Desktop Enterprise can pay for a premium support package.