Web search leader Google Inc. is introducing an upgraded version of its software for users to organise and find information on any computer and to share it with friends, the company said on Thursday.
Google Desktop 3 poses new challenges to Microsoft Corp.'s dominance of the way people interact with computers, but also demands users place far greater trust in Google's capacity to protect their privacy.
Google Desktop vacuums up data stored on a user's PC and makes it accessible on any other computer in regular use by the customer at home or work or even on an airplane trip, assuming users consent to storing data on Google's central computers.
In addition, Google said it is turning "Sidebar," a system introduced six months ago for viewing live updates of personal information, into a way to share quick notes, news, photos or other tidbits of data with friends or colleagues.
"This is starting to amount to a new operating system, though Google would never describe it as such," Gartner Inc. analyst Allen Weiner said. "It is going to be Microsoft's challenge to offer the same level of flexibility and power for both consumers and content creators."
Google also is opening up its mini information panels to encourage independent developers to build applications for users, borrowing a strategy first popularised by Apple Computer Inc. and Yahoo Inc., and which Microsoft plans to introduce in the next version of Windows for consumers.
These mini-programs can be shared in a few clicks with any user of Google Talk, which operates as a kind of background communications system.
Google has built 100 such "applets" so far -- from games such as online chess or tick-tack-toe to monitors for checking airline flight times or eBay auctions in progress, said Sundar Pichai, Google's director of product management.
Outside developers will be encouraged to contribute many more starting from Thursday. Customers would download these from Google's site at http://desktop.google.com/.
These instant-information panels are perfect also for small-screen mobile phones and other devices -- making good on its goal of giving access to information anywhere.
Still, Rob Helm, an analyst with "Directions on Microsoft," said that the world's largest software company had both technical and business defenses against Google.
Microsoft has far more diverse businesses than Google including not just its Windows operating system, but Office applications, server and database software and Web services. Google basically depends on advertising alone, Helm noted.
"It is a race where Google is trying to get into Microsoft's business before Microsoft cuts off Google's advertising business," Helm said.
READY OR NOT TO SEARCH
Many Google Desktop users report a shock of realisation when they become aware how much personal information about themselves is contained on their machines.
But by giving users the ability to search for text documents across their computers, Google risks angering corporate security managers who may fear the loss of corporate secrets through the openness of such systems.
Google officials said the company already offers an "enterprise" version of Google Desktop that gives network administrators control over the level of freedom users have to share files within or outside their organisations.
Individual users also have the ability to select which documents or folders are excluded from document sharing.
Another security feature allows users to lock out anyone but themselves from using Google Desktop search on their computers in order to protect PC data from prying colleagues.
Weiner said the computer industry's drive to deliver a wide array of personally relevant information to consumers on PCs, phones, TVs or in their cars increasingly demand trade-offs between personal privacy and convenience and personalization.
"Google is willing to proceed...even if a significant percentage of people will not use these features, at least immediately," Weiner said. Yahoo faces some of the same issues with its push to run its services on phones and TVs, he said.
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