Google Desktop for Linux: Google Search In Linux!

I've been using Google Desktop for Linux for almost a week now so I thought I'd write little review on it for people wondering what it's like.

I think the simplest thing to say about it is that it's Google Desktop. It's roughly the same as it is for Windows, so if you were expecting something dramatically different then you're not going to get it. So if you're not a fan of the software as it runs on Windows then there's a high probability that you're not going to be a fan of it on Linux either. Similarly, if you regularly use it on Windows and like it then you'll probably like it on Linux as well.

Now, for people who haven't used Google Desktop before it is, at it's most basic, a search engine for your files. Linux systems of course have this built-in from day one with locate (or slocate) on the command-line and Ubuntu (and others) come with Beagle for desktop searching. Both of these systems have their shortfalls though and the Google name is a powerful one in the arena of search so it's interesting to compare them all.

In terms of installation, Google have made it very easy to get their software running on Ubuntu at the last. They provide a .deb that can be quickly installed and will create a menu for Google Desktop, as well as adding it to the programs to be enabled on start up. You might need to start it manually after you've installed it if you don't want to reboot. One thing I don't like about the installation is that it creates an entirely separate menu called Google Desktop. I don't think the program is really "worthy" of occupying a complete menu in itself but I can't think of where it would be better suited. Perhaps in the Places menu along with Search for Files… but this might be non-standard.

Google Desktop: Application Menu

Once running it will live in the notification area of the GNOME desktop and it can be brought up by double-clicking the icon or simply hitting the Ctrl key twice. The latter is extremely convenient and works the same way as hitting F12 does for Beagle. When run for the first time Desktop will start a once-off indexing of all your existing files. This took a good 14 hours or so for me with around 80GB of data to index and a 5400RPM laptop hard drive. I did like that the indexing used almost none of my laptop's resources. I think it reached 20MB of memory and 2% of my CPU (I have a 1.8GHz Core Duo) which is a hell of a lot less than Beagle uses when it's indexing things – I've seen it get up to 60% CPU and 800MB of memory! After the initial indexing Desktop will keep itself up to date with new and edited files.

In terms of searching it's similar to Beagle – you bring it up with the shortcut key and start typing in what you want to find. Search is performed "live" (you don't need to hit a search button) and results come up almost instantaneously once you stop typing. Desktop also has an alternate searching method that will bring up a web page, similar to the Google home page, that you can use to search. This page can be brought up by right-clicking on the notification area icon and selecting Show Home Page. The results appear similar to Google's web search as well so most people would be instantly familiar with it.

Google Desktop: Home Page

I found the search results to be adequate for most purposes. Results are not grouped in any way but different types can be filtered in the browser search. The actual types of files indexed are not exhaustive but most of the things you'd want are covered: OpenOffice documents, Thunderbird mail, PDFs, MP3s and even man pages. Other file types aren't supported or don't contain information to index (like most videos) so they are only searchable by their filename. I must say that the ability to search man and info pages is extremely useful for me as bringing up information about a command is really fast now. Really, I can't say that I have any particular problems with the searching, my only gripe is that there aren't many results returned initially and you might have to look through multiple pages in your browser.

Overall, Google Desktop is pretty good as a desktop search engine. It doesn't use up many system resources (which is the reason I got rid of Beagle) and has a nice and simple user interface. It's not open source so that might turn away some Linux fanatics but for most of us will be an excellent addition to our desktops.