| 3:25:21 PM
Google Experiments With Local Filesystem Search [Slashdot]
Google Moves Toward Clash With Microsoft
By JOHN MARKOFF
SAN FRANCISCO, May 18 - Edging closer to a direct confrontation with Microsoft, Google, the Web search engine, is preparing to introduce a powerful file and text software search tool for locating information stored on personal computers.
Google's software, which is expected to be introduced soon, according to several people with knowledge of the company's plans, is the clearest indication to date that the company, based in Mountain View, Calif., hopes to extend its search business to compete directly with Microsoft's control of desktop computing.
Improved technology for searching information stored on a PC will also be a crucial feature of Microsoft's long-delayed version of its Windows operating system called Longhorn. That version, which is not expected before 2006 at the earliest, will have a redesigned file system, making it possible to track and retrieve information in ways not currently possible with Windows software.
Google's move is in part a defensive one, because the company is concerned about Microsoft's ability to make searching on the Web as well as on a PC a central part of its operating system. By integrating more search functions into Windows, Microsoft could conceivably challenge Google the way it threatened, and destroyed, an earlier rival, Netscape, by incorporating Web browsing into the Windows 98 operating system.
A Google spokesman declined to comment about the new search tool.
Although Google's core business rests on huge farms of server computers that permit fast searching on the Internet, the company has already taken several steps to move beyond that business.
Last year, Google began testing a free program called the Google Deskbar that makes it possible to search the Web by entering words and phrases in a small dialog box placed in the Windows desktop taskbar at the bottom of the computer screen.
Google also sells a computer search system designed to index and retrieve information created and stored by a single organization.
There is a rich history of less-than-successful attempts to create information search tools for personal computers. In the 1980's, for example, Mitchell Kapor's On Technology developed On Location for retrieving information on Macintosh computers and Bill Gross, a prominent software developer, led a group of programmers to create Lotus Magellan for the PC.
Digital Equipment's Alta Vista search engine group also developed a search tool for data stored on desktop PC's. Today there are a number of commercial products for desktop searches like X1 and dtSearch. Moreover, both the Macintosh and Windows operating systems have file and text retrieval capabilities.
The Google software project, which is code-named Puffin and which will be available as a free download from Google's Web site, has been running internally at the company for about a year.
The project was started, in part, to prepare Google for competing with Windows Longhorn, which according to industry analysts will dispense with the need for a stand-alone browser.
The disappearance of the Web browser and the integration of both Web search and PC search into the Windows operating system could potentially marginalize Google's search engine. Google, well aware of this threat, hired a Microsoft product manager last year to oversee the Puffin project as part of its strategy to compete with Microsoft's incursion into its territory.
Microsoft has shown demonstrations of its new search technology, which emphasizes the use of natural language in queries like "Where are my vacation photos?" or "What is a firewall?" Microsoft believes that Longhorn users will no longer think about where information is stored; they will instead see a unified view of documents stored on both the Internet and on the desktop.
The looming confrontation between Microsoft and Google is coming as Microsoft prepares to introduce its own advanced Web search service, possibly later this year. The company is revising its MSN strategy and backing away from its Internet dial-up service, looking instead to get more revenue from the search advertising market that Google dominates.
Web and PC-based searching is a particularly thorny subject for Microsoft because the company's chairman, Bill Gates, first outlined the idea of "information at your fingertips" in a speech given at a computer industry trade show in 1990. Yet the company did little to innovate in the areas of Internet search or text and file searches on the PC until it discovered how profitable search had become for Google.
Google's strategy is to move quickly while Microsoft is still developing its Longhorn version of Windows, adding programs and services like its recently announced Gmail electronic mail program. The intent, say people who are aware of the company's strategy, is to lower its vulnerability to Microsoft by adding businesses that are "sticky" - in other words, businesses that create strong customer loyalty or are hard to switch away from.
Internet searching is widely seen by industry executives as a powerful commercial service, but one that is difficult to defend. It is widely presumed that Internet users who find a search service that is better than Google's will be willing to defect.
Searches for information stored on a PC, however, could offer an advertising arena that is more readily defensible. Indeed, desktop searching might be particularly valuable for Google's commercial advertisers, which may be willing to pay dearly for the ability to place targeted ads in front of personal computer users.
Such services, while they may be lucrative, will also inevitably force Google to deal with new controversies. Some privacy activists have opposed the Gmail service because they are concerned that the company is automatically extracting information from its customers' Gmail accounts.