NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, September 2007
Google Desktop and Gadgets
By Ira Wilsker, APCUG Director;
Columnist, The Examiner, Beaumont, TX; Radio & TV Show Host

(click to email author)


We all know Google as a major power in the area of search engines. Google also offers a variety of other services such as information via cell phone text messaging (sms.google.com), online document and spread sheet creation and editing (docs.google.com), comprehensive news (news.yahoo.com), and its very popular mapping function (maps.google.com). What is not as well known is a Google service referred to as “Gadgets” or the “Google Desktop” at http://desktop.google.com.

Desktop gadgets are small applications that improve our computing satisfaction by providing selected information or entertainment directly on our desktops, without having to directly load a program or web browser. Google has hundreds of gadgets available, most created and written by individuals who are not Google employees. The Google desktop will run on Windows Vista, XP, and 2000, as well as on Mac’s and Linux machines.

The root of the Google Desktop is a free utility from Google which must be downloaded and installed prior to the installation of Gadgets. One of the default functions included with the basic download is a Google Sidebar which can be docked anywhere on the desktop, but seems to default to the right edge of the screen. The sidebar is fully customizable, but typically includes such gadgets as current date and time, weather, a real-time news feed, photo viewer, and (of course) a Google search bar.

Another of the features of the Google Desktop is a utility which allows the user to search files on his computer by utilizing a Google interface, and having the results appear like a typical Google search. The search can locate on the computer images, emails, data, and other files just as if it was a search done on Google. After installation, the Google Desktop creates a “Smart Index” of the information on the hard drive. In order to minimize the impact on system resources and performance, this Smart Index is a one-time function that only runs while the computer is idle for 30 seconds or more. Actual running time to index everything on a large hard drive may take an aggregate several hours, but this is fortunately a one-time event. Data and information added after the Smart Index is created are added to the index almost in real time, assuring that the index is kept up to date. For reasons of personal security, the desktop search may be prevented by the implementation of an optional password. When engaged, the desktop search is locked, and the index can not be accessed without the correct password being entered.

One interesting feature of the Google Desktop is its ability to find deleted files. The Desktop creates cached copies of item as they are viewed, and stores these copies on the hard drive. A desktop search may be able to locate the stored image of the deleted files, and allow for their restoration, instead of recreating them from scratch.

Google has demonstrated its interest in online security by integrating a function that fights phishing, spoofed websites created to steal personal information for the purposes of identity theft. The Desktop also protects from many websites that are known to attempt to place malicious software on the victim computer.

The Desktop also integrates with Microsoft’s Outlook, which is one of the most widely used email programs. It installs a search box in the Outlook toolbar which eases the search for senders, topics, and keywords. The results appear as a partial view of the email containing the information sought.

There are hundreds of individual gadgets available for free downloading. They can be found at http://desktop.google.com/plugins, and can be individually located utilizing an inevitable Google search box, or by selecting from a menu of Gadget topics. Gadget menu topics include News, Tools, Communications, Finance, Fun & Games, Google, Sports, Lifestyle, Technology, and Holidays. News Gadgets allow for news headlines and stories from any of dozens of sources to be displayed on the desktop, while Finance Gadgets can display stock quotes, financial news, credit and banking information, and a variety of other financial information. For those interested in science and technology, the Technology Gadgets may be entertaining. Some of the Technology Gadgets track the Hubble Space Telescope, the International Space Station, display NASA TV, display a sky chart, and other interesting Gadgets. “Google Gadgets for the Holidays” include romantic valentine gadgets, virtual Christmas trees, and countdown clocks to Christmas, new Years, and other holidays. Lifestyle Gadgets include movie reviews and trailers, several daily horoscopes, “This Day In History”, today’s birthdays, virtual aquarium, daily Bible verses, music players, internet radio players, biorhythms, and many other fun selections. Fun & Games includes on-screen games, webcams, mood meters, online chess, and many other Gadgets to entertain the user.

Google’s Desktop and Gadgets can be a useful and entertaining adjunct to our computing experience. For the Google addicts among us, the Google Desktop and Gadgets may help to satisfy that addiction while providing us with increased computing satisfaction.

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