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Commentary: Google's new search terms

The new Desktop Search tool sets the bar high and moves Google squarely into Microsoft territory.

Commentary: Google's new search terms
By Forrester Research
Special to CNET
October 14, 2004, 12:15PM PT

by Charlene Li, Principal Analyst

Google made it easy to search the Web, and now it's doing it again with Desktop Search.

An elegant integration with Web results means that Google will not only encourage greater use of both Web and desktop search but will also gain greater search loyalty against later entrants like Yahoo, Ask Jeeves and Microsoft. But users beware--while Google gives them plenty of control over what they search, they should understand the implications of having a discoverable record of their activity on their hard drives.

Related story
Google unveils desktop search
New tool for locating personal files
and Web history stored on a PC could
shake up the Internet search field--
and raise privacy hackles.
It's ironic that it's been easier to search through billions of documents on the Web than it is to find a single file on your desktop. While other desktop search applications have debuted over the past year, Google's goes further by integrating local files with its own Web search results. The debut of Google's desktop means that:

• Integrated Web search results give Google the lead. By linking the desktop and the Web, Google will be able to drive more traffic and usage, further solidifying its lead in Internet search. Other major search engines will undoubtedly launch similar offerings in the next few months, but they will have to match Google's offering to keep their customers happy or best it to gain new converts. Yahoo and Ask Jeeves must build on their personalized search platforms to provide more relevant, accurate results, while Microsoft should tie desktop search to the debut of its highly anticipated entry into Web search to keep Hotmail and MSN Messenger users loyal.

• Google creates "personalized" search without registration. While Yahoo, A9 and Ask Jeeves have introduced personalized search offerings in the past month, they all require the user to bookmark sites of interest actively. Because Google stores a cached version of every Web page viewed in a browser, it creates a personalized index of the Web on the user's hard drive--automatically. While not as fully functional as its competitors, Google Desktop Search allows users to search for and retrieve every page they have ever viewed.

• Users should consider changing their habits. Because Google creates a record of everything that a person touches on the desktop, users will need to be aware of that when they are conducting sensitive activities. E-mails, Web sites visited, chat transcripts--all of these items become discoverable objects within the index. Users uncomfortable with this type of monitoring will have to limit the scope of desktop search--and to that end, Google provides excellent controls to suspend indexing and exclude specific types of activities, folders and Web sites.

New territory for Google
There are also implications on what desktop search means to the Google business itself, namely that:

• Paid search receives a shot in the arm. Increased use of desktop search--and thus, Web search--means that Google's paid search revenues will continue to grow. While it plans to place ads only next to Web search results for now, look for Google to test placements next to desktop search results as well, with placement keyed off query terms, not the content of the files. While some people may object, the benefits of effective desktop search will outweigh the concerns of ads appearing next to personal files. Some will appreciate the added value, while others will ignore it.

• Google will have to actively market itself in the face of renewed competition. It was one thing for Google to sneak into the dominant position in Web search and another to encroach on the desktop space--which Microsoft claims. Look for Microsoft to support its MSN Search launch with significant marketing and for Google to counter with its first-ever advertising and marketing campaign.

• Google will marginalize other enterprise search players. As consumers adopt Google Desktop Search--and start using it at work--corporate IT managers will have less of a need to buy solutions that can search across corporate email and desktops. As a result, enterprise search providers like Autonomy and Verity will be relegated to searching secure corporate networks--and open the door for Google Search Appliance as a low-cost solution.

© 2004, Forrester Research, Inc. All rights reserved. Information is based on best available resources. Opinions reflect judgment at the time and are subject to change.