google logoGoogle has recently made a foray into the domain of Personal Content Management. Here’s a review of their first two (free) PCM tools.

First up was Picasa, an image management tool.

There are two aspects to PCM:

  • Document editing (creating and changing individual documents — things in the hard-copy world you would do with a pencil) and
  • Workspace manipulation (locating, filing and moving documents and files from place to place — things in the hard-copy world you would do with your hands).

Picasa is just for graphics documents, and it does the second PCM task very well and the first quite poorly. When you download the application, it will automatically find and index every graphics file on your computer (you can instruct it to disregard files in specified folders). It then displays, in a size large enough to clearly identify each image, every graphics file, in a large array 10 images wide, sorted by folder, that you can scroll. At the left side is a scrollable list of all the folders (‘albums’) that contain one or more images. You can re-sort either display, you can aggregate folders (albums) into logical ‘collections’, and, most importantly, you can find, extract, and move (logically or physically) images from place to place. Like everything from Google, Picasa is elegantly simple and intuitive.

Google also offers some ‘edit picture’ functionality, but it’s rudimentary and not even substantial enough for basic image editing needs (e.g. you cannot re-size pictures with it). But anything you can do with your hands with hard-copy images, you can do just as easily with soft-copy images with Picasa.

The second addition to Google’s PCM stable is Google Desktop, ostensibly an extension of the Google search tool, except that it works on the files on your computer. When you download the application, it will automatically find and keyword-index every document you have of certain types and place the Google Desktop icon on your desktop. Clicking on this icon brings up the familiar Google search page, and keywords and phrases are entered and accesed the same way they are in a Google Internet search. The results, which also look and work the same as for a Google Internet search, can be sorted by date (most recently changed first) or by ‘relevance’ (not sure how Google decides relevance for documents on your computer, but I didn’t find sorting results this way very useful). Compared to searching for documents using Windows’ search tool, Google Desktop is light years ahead: faster, easier, and more useful results. As with Picasa, you can designate folders on your computer as off-limits for Google Desktop searches. And the Google search tools are interchangeable: You can use Google Desktop to search the Web, and once you’ve downloaded it, your Google Web searches will also search your computer (though you can turn this off). I’ve been surprised at the usefulness of this (for those of us over 50 anyway) — go searching for something on the Web and you get a reminder that there’s already something on this on your own machine. I keep html files of all my blog posts as an extra backup, so I also discover sometimes that the subject I’m researching for a post is something I’ve already written about.

The only real downside, and it’s a temporary one, is the severely limited types of files that Google Desktop searches. The initial target is Microsoft apps, so Microsoft Office documents (Word, Excel, Powerpoint) and Microsoft Mail (Outlook) messages are searched, along with all html and txt files on your computer, and Recent files accessed on the Web through Internet Explorer. Notably missing:

  • Other Mail applications (Mozilla first, please)
  • Zipped files
  • PDF files
  • xml files (blog backup stuff)
  • Other word processing applications

When you sign up for Google Desktop there’s an option to tell them which applications should be added to the search capability first. Tell them what you think.

How does Google Desktop measure up as a PCM Tool? It’s a good start. Like everything Google, it’s simple, familiar and intuitive. It’s great at finding things, as long as there aren’t too many results — I’m not convinced that the ‘relevance’ ranking will work on a desktop, so Google needs to think through both the ranking algorithm, and the possible addition of filtering mechanisms. The other aspects of PCM — aggregating and moving documents, and document editing — Google hasn’t yet broached. But I suspect it’s on their radar screen, and if they can start to move into these area while keeping the simple, familiar, intuitive disclipline of their existing work, they might not only replace Microsoft as the ‘owners’ of the desktop application, but finally bridge the chasm between the still-small proportion of power users and the large majority of bewildered, marginal users.

What’s also really intriguing about Google Desktop is the possibility of being able (with appropriate permissioning) to do searches of other people’s computers. In business, I can appreciate that people might not want others accessing documents directly from their machines. But this tool provides the promise of being able to find out just that what you’re looking on is on someone else’s machine, so that you know who to call. That, to me, has enormous potential. Imagine Google Desktop being able to search for something on the computers of everyone in the company, or even everyone in the industry! This could be the start of an awesome, and amazingly simple, Expertise Finder tool.

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  1. Mike Fried says:

    I like the google toolbar, gmail and googleitself. Life is better thanks to them. I can live with the targeted advertising that comes with my mail but somehow I don’t think I’llever get over the concern of having my disk drivecontents scanned and indexed by an outsidecompany no matter what privacy is promised.

  2. JC says:

    It’s SO much faster than the file search of Microsoft.

  3. Jon Husband says:

    Copernic’s free Desktop Search is even better than Google’s

  4. Rajiv says:

    And of course no Linux version –which is surprising, since Google is a linux shop

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