If you’re in love with Google and want to extend its all-seeing gaze to the intimate recesses of your hard drive, Google Desktop Search is the way to go. Google Desktop runs on your PC, but you access it via your web browser, submitting queries exactly as you would to www.google.com. In fact, when you do Google searches, it automatically interpolates any matching results from your hard drive — a disconcerting process, even though Google swears up and down that it’s not collecting or examining your personal information on its monstrous servers deep in the heart of Google Mountain.

However, Google Desktop takes a long time to index files the first time (more than five hours to scan about 3,800 files and nearly 10,000 Outlook messages, using the beta version we tested). Although we tested it on the same computer as Yahoo Desktop, it indexed fewer files because Google Desktop doesn’t index executables, archived Outlook folders, or Outlook contacts.

However, the Google Desktop interface is slick and easy to use. It presents search results as links in your browser, including two-line excerpts from matching text documents and thumbnail images of cached web pages (from either Internet Explorer or Firefox). And once the initial indexing is complete, Google Desktop captures news files and web pages quickly; they’ll show up in search results within a minute or two.

For power users who want to search every last item on their hard drives, we recommend Yahoo Desktop. But for most people, Google Desktop is easier to use and more effective. -Dylan Tweney

Best Feature: New files added to index within minutes
Worst Feature: Doesn’t search Outlook contacts

Google Desktop Search Beta
Price: Free
Requirements: Windows XP, 500MB of hard-disk space, and 128MB of RAM

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Link: Google Desktop Search Beta

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