Google is to launch an updated version of its desktop search tool today for Windows users. The enhancements include the ability to search the full text of Adobe PDF files and the metadata of multimedia files, a Google executive said.

Google expects a plug-in to soon be available that can search the metadata of music files acquired from Apple Computer's iTunes music store, Google product manager Nikhil Bhatla said.

Until now, the product could only index the names of PDF and multimedia files, such as image, music and video files. But the new version improves on this by indexing the entire content of PDF files and the metadata of multimedia files, such as song and artist names in music files, said

Bhatla said: "We've taken the product out of beta because now we have all the file types and features that were high on the list of user requests. By removing the beta tag, Google is hoping more users will feel encouraged to download and install the product."

Desktop search

Competition is fierce among providers of tools such as this one that let users index and retrieve information found on their PCs, a task for which few products existed until recently. Desktop search is viewed as an important area of the overall search engine market, because increasingly users expect to be able to find information on their PCs in the same way they find information on the Internet.

Although it isn't clear yet how search engine vendors will make money from these tools, most of which are free, it is generally agreed that a user who becomes loyal to a desktop search product is highly likely to extend that loyalty to the tool maker's Internet search engine. In recent years, the market for online ads that search engines serve up with their query results has exploded. However, a big challenge for search engine vendors is to find ways to foster loyalty among their users. Studies have shown users feel little attachment to particular engines.

Google introduced its desktop product in October of last year, joining Lycos and several smaller, niche players, such as Copernic Technologie, X1 Technologies and Blinkx, which already had desktop search tools available. However, Google beat big search engine providers such as Microsoft, Ask Jeeves, Yahoo and America Online, all of which subsequently released their own test versions of desktop search tools. Yahoo partnered with X1 and AOL with Copernic for their respective desktop search entries.

Email support

Other improvements in the Google desktop tool, which is free, are support for the Mozilla Foundation's Firefox browser and Thunderbird email application and for America Online's Netscape browser and email application. Previously, the product supported only Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser and Outlook and Outlook Express email applications.

Moreover, Google is also releasing on Monday a tool kit for developers to create plug-in applications that extend the functionality of the desktop search product via open application programming interfaces (APIs.) The software development kit will be available along with documentation, sample code and some plug-ins that have already been built.

One such plug-in lets users index instant messaging (IM) conversations from Cerulean Studios' popular Trillian IM application; the original version of the product only indexed IM sessions from AOL's AIM service.

Soon, a third-party developer will create a plug-in that, using speech-to-text technology, will allow the product to transcribe the content of audio and video files and make it searchable, thus deepening the indexing capabilities of those files beyond metadata, Bhatla said.

Although this desktop search tool is designed for use by consumers, Google continues to work hard at developing a version that is appropriate for the workplace, he said. However, this new version does have one enterprise feature: It recognizes Microsoft group policy parameters on a PC and cancels its own installation if the parameters state that the Google desktop tool can't be run on that machine.