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Google updates desktop search tools

Google Desktop 3 aims to let people easily share information, lock the system and search on multiple computers.

Google is adding new features to its Desktop search program, including further customization of the Sidebar and the ability to send information directly to a friend's desktop, search on multiple computers at once and lock the search function with a password.

The new features are expected to be released Thursday for Google Desktop, a free downloadable program that lets users search for files on their hard drive using keywords and to launch applications. The accompanying Sidebar is a floating tool palette that offers personalized news, RSS feeds, weather, stock quotes and other information based on a user's preferences. It also displays scrolling lists of the most recent e-mail and offers a scratch pad and to-do list.

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Video: Google's new desktop search
CNET's Elinor Mills describes the new features of Google Desktop 3.

With the new beta version of Google Desktop 3 users can drag Sidebar modules to any location on the screen they want. Users also can e-mail news links, notes and other information to others or send them through Gmail Chat or directly to their Sidebar using Google Talk. Google Desktop search can now be locked with a Windows password to prevent others from searching for files.

People who regularly use several computers can now use Google Desktop to search for items stored on multiple computers simultaneously, even when they are not connected to the Internet. Once the Search Across Computers function is enabled, text copies of documents and Web history are automatically transferred to the other computer that has Google Desktop installed, said Sundar Pichai, director of product management at Google. When the user searches on one computer for information, the second computer is automatically searched.

Google will delete any copies of the files from its servers within 30 days and encrypts the data, he said. Google automatically excludes from being transferred any password-protected files and secure Web pages, and users can exclude any folders or files, he added.

Other new features include advanced search forms, spelling suggestions for queries, the ability to disable indexing, the addition of zip file indexing and an improved preferences page.

Google Desktop is available only in English now but will be released in 16 languages by the end of March, Pichai said.

New plug-ins allow people to include modules in their Sidebar that track eBay auctions, receive job postings and monitor rush hour traffic.

Desktop search is a hot area and all the major search engine companies have been trying to out-do each other in features.

Microsoft launched MSN Search Toolbar with Windows Desktop Search last May and is planning to include its Sidebar product in the next version of its operating system, called Windows Vista. Yahoo Widgets is based on the Konfabulator program that Yahoo acquired last year. And Apple Computer offers Dashboard for the Mac OS.