triumphed with web search, Google is now looking
to expand with a tool that will search your
desktop's hard drive. In doing so, it faces
plenty of competition - and other challenges.
faces a difficult task if it tries to
transplant its successful web search business to
Mountain View, Calif.-based company is
reportedly preparing to release downloadable
software that enables people to search for text
and files stored on their computer's hard drive.
The move would dramatically expand Google's
search business beyond the web while taking
direct aim at Microsoft, which is itself getting
ready to take on Google's dominance in web
search with its own technology.
clearly a pre-emptive move," said Richard
DeSilva, a senior associate partner at venture
firm Highland Capital.
Google would not confirm the existence of
the project, called "Puffin", industry
watchers have expected such a move for some
time. Having announced plans
last month for a $2.7 billion initial public
offering of its stock, Google is accelerating
efforts to increase revenue and expand into new
markets on a number of fronts.
broadening into desktop file search, Google
would put two businesses to the test. First, it
would expand its web-search advertising - its
primary source of revenue, with sales of $914
million last year - to an ad-supported
application running on the desktop. That would
put Google much closer to controversial
companies such as Claria (formerly Gator) and
WhenU, which have been caught up in a growing
consumer backlash against adware and spyware
Google would take what it's learned in building
an enterprise search application and bring it to
the masses. That's no easy task, considering
that Google failed to storm the enterprise
search market when it introduced the Google
Search Appliance in September 2002. The product
makes up a fraction of its business.
But desktop file search poses vastly different
problems than web search does, and the company
could easily be trumped by operating system
makers such as Microsoft, whose Windows software
runs on more than 90 percent of the world's PCs.
OS dominance has been credited in the past
with helping the software giant muscle into
fresh territory by bundling new features in
Windows - a key allegation the U.S. Department
of Justice's antitrust suit, filed against the
company in October 1997.
a Securities and Exchange Commission filing
announcing its IPO, Google flagged potential
Microsoft tactics as a possible threat to its
business on the web. In an overview of risk
factors facing the company, Google speculated
that the software giant could one day seek to
interfere with its ability to index certain
kinds of documents on the web.
concerns are even more pertinent when it comes
to the desktop, where Microsoft holds powerful
levers to promote its own products over those of
to a report in The New York Times,
Google will try to fulfill an unmet need among
PC users for tools to easily find information
across multiple applications on the hard drive -
searching through email, text documents in
various formats, music, and photos files, for
example. Consumers would likely be the primary
audience for such a tool, but it could easily
infiltrate workplaces, too.
already offers an elegant tool built into
Mac OS X to perform many of these tasks, but it
only works on its own Macintosh line of
computers, which account for less than 5 percent
of the market. Although Microsoft includes
desktop search software as part of Windows, it
is unwieldy, and most users rely instead on
self-managed file folders to organize their
is working on updating the next version of
Windows - Longhorn - to allow people to search
text, files and the web within many
applications. However, that version isn't slated
for release until after 2006.
Google could establish a foothold - and a
competitive edge - in this desktop search market
by getting in early with free consumer software,
supported by advertising. Also, it could broaden
its advertising into a much more intimate PC
environment, off the web, where people spend at
least 50 percent of their time.
the company would instantly encounter new
now owned by Yahoo, was among the first to take
a stab at desktop search, but its product failed
to catch on. Since then, a slew of companies
have developed downloadable software
applications to address the problem, including
Copernic, Groxis, Enfish, 8020 and X1
Technologies. None have gathered critical mass.
firm IDC has estimated that sales of software
for search represented a $617 million market in
a tough market, lots of companies have come and
gone," said Andrew Feit, a senior vice
president of marketing for corporate search
technology provider Verity.
Google has mainly avoided controversy over its
web search ads, it runs the risk of alienating
consumers if it misplays its hand in a
downloadable application that aims to sort
through private material, critics say.
companies such as Claria and WhenU are
trotting out new desktop applications to appeal
to consumers and support their ad businesses.
Claria and WhenU began by bundling their
advertising software with other popular
file-sharing applications so they could increase
the number of people they might track for ad
purposes. These companies monitor people as they
surf the web and send targeted ads based on
their behavior. The practices have landed them
and many others in court, where they have argued
for their right to deliver ads to the websites
of their customers' rivals.
a sign of growing overlap between web search
advertising and ad-supported desktop tools,
Yahoo's Overture subsidiary has struck a deal to
display tiny text advertisements through Claria
and federal governments are now interested
in regulating and perhaps even banning adware
and its more controversial cousin, spyware. Utah
has already enacted such a law, and the U.S.
House of Representatives and the Federal Trade
Commission have convened hearings on the issue
in the last few weeks.
may be backing self-regulation in advance of
widespread laws. This week, the company released
a set of suggested principles for software
makers to follow when writing programs that
embed themselves on internet users' PCs. The
guidelines propose that an application should
follow simple rules of politeness: It should
admit what it's doing, permit itself to be
disabled and not do sneaky things like leak
even if it applies such best practices, Google
could still land in hot water. Given that the
company already has access to information about
people's search histories and web surfing
behavior and will do so about their email
communications through its upcoming Gmail
service, Google could take heat from privacy
advocates and consumers.
company already makes the Google Toolbar,
Deskbar and other products for Windows that
transmit some information about web surfing
behavior back to its servers. Under proposed
laws, these tools could be regulated, as would
its upcoming ad-supported desktop search
happened is that there's a trend of going from
search to publishers to the desktop. After
looking at the beginning of that market with
Claria, the question is: How do you make it a
consumer experience that they not only want, but
also aren't offended by?" Highland's
concerns over embedded software are unlikely to
affect Microsoft, whose upcoming integrated
search tools will probably be kept free from
Google also faces considerable hurdles in the
technology side of desktop search.
many people equate search with Google, but in
fact, there's an entirely different market for
enterprise search software. And it is a complex
problem to solve," said Sue Feldman, a vice
president of content technologies research for
introduced an application for searching
corporate intranets and desktop files two years
ago. But the software makes up less than 5
percent of the company's business, or less than
$48 million last year, according to the
company's IPO filing. While Google has a couple
hundred enterprise customers, it hasn't been as
successful in that sector as it has in search
has become popular because it's helped to
improve web search by delivering fast, relevant
results. But its formulas for the web that rely
on the link structure of web pages are unlikely
to translate well to the PC environment, as
files and documents on the PC don't contain an
inherent link structure.
answer is to embed a common sticky note to
applications and documents that would let people
label these with a few keywords. That would make
it easier to retrieve the files down the road.
Application makers such as Adobe Systems and OS
makers such as Microsoft are in a prime position
to develop such tools.
approach, now under development by
Microsoft, is to create intelligent documents
with XML (Extensible Markup Language) links.
These would enable people to input information
into one document and funnel that data to other,
relevant applications. Search tools would be
built in, so related information could be found
in disparate applications.
Convera and Verity are all companies that are
working to solve these enterprise search
problems and typically offer much more robust
technology than Google's enterprise technology.
Google's system tends to focus on simplicity and
works particularly well with HTML-based
real challenge will be in adoption: getting
people to download and install it,"
independent analyst Matthew Berk said. "In
order to search your hard drive, you need to
install something that's pretty intrusive, that
can reach deep down into your machine."
To discontinue mailings, click here