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Google launches desktop search tool

Google has made its desktop search widely available as it takes on rivals Microsoft and Yahoo in the race to help users find email and files stored on computer hard drives.

Google in October was the first major search company to roll out a test version of its desktop search offering.

Google Desktop Search, launched late on Sunday, locates email, AOL chat sessions and previously viewed Web pages. It also searches various file types, from PDFs and Microsoft Word files to audio, video and photo files.

Office workers and other computer users previously had few effective tools for finding documents and email buried on their personal computers. Search companies and others have jumped in to fill that void with the hope of replicating the success Web search has enjoyed.

Other companies, including Apple Computer, Ask Jeeves and Time Warner's AOL are eyeing desktop search amid the fierce battle playing out in the advertising-supported Web search arena.

Microsoft, which recently rolled its own Web search product to attack Google's dominant position, has offered its own desktop search tool on a trial basis for the last three months.

Microsoft's desktop search tool, once installed, can be accessed via a Web browser toolbar, the MSN Search Web page and task bar in the Windows operating system.

Yahoo in January released the test version of its desktop search product. Yahoo Desktop Search is based on licensed code from X1 Technologies and enables users to search 200 types of files including email and attachments, text, pictures, music, and personal contacts.

In response to security and privacy concerns, Google Desktop defaults to not indexing password-protected files such as spreadsheets, although users can turn the feature on. Any file that is indexed is searchable, which led to concerns that secure documents could be viewed by anyone with access to the computer where the documents are stored.

Google also gives users the choice to index secure Web pages, such as those that appear during online banking transactions.

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