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Sidebar Takes Center Stage in New Google Desktop Search

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In the game of one-upsmanship with rivals Microsoft and Yahoo, Google has updated its desktop search offering, adding tools that deliver personalized information based on a user's online surfing habits, reports the Associated Press. Google Desktop 2 is available starting today as a public beta. In addition to providing search results, the update of the free program monitors user behavior and presents relevant information in a window called the Sidebar.

Sidebar's mini applications provides personalized news, RSS and Atom feeds, photo sites, and other information sources, based on the user's previous web activities, writes Information Week.

The new software's "agent" features - learning capabilities - and Google's invitation to independent programmers to develop software to extend the capability of the system will likely be viewed as threats by Microsoft, which is focusing on similar information retrieval and organization in its next-generation operating system, Windows Vista, writes the New York Times.

"We're really trying to make this into a platform," said Nikhil Bhatla, product manager for Google Desktop.

The News panel displays links to news articles similar to ones read by the user. The Web Clips panel automatically starts tracking RSS and Atom feeds from visited web pages. Another module aggregates e-mail messages from various accounts, including Google's Gmail. Others display stock prices, personalized news headlines, weather reports and what's popular on the web.

The program has several tools for finding information residing in local and network drives and the internet. Sidebar has its own search box and adds a new toolbar to Microsoft's Outlook for swift access to mail messages.

Some features, including personalized news, involve sending details of its users surfing habits back to Google. Bhatla said no personally identifying data is transmitted, and users can also opt out. Google Desktop 2 also offers to encryption to protect users' data from being read by unauthorized parties.

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