The Google Desktop is a free program that indexes and searches your Outlook folders and the documents on your computer.

This will have more of an impact on your world than you suspect.

From an icon down by the clock, you can instantly search every incoming and outgoing e-mail message, all of your documents, instant messenger chats, and the contents of every web page you view. Search results are presented in exactly the same style as a Google search – instant results with a look at the first couple of sentences from each item.

The Google Desktop can be downloaded here. There are additional details and screen shots here, and news coverage here.

The Google Desktop program is a very small download. During the first few hours after it’s installed, it will work quietly in the background on the initial index, but only while you’re turned away – you shouldn’t notice any impact on computer performance. Indexing after that is essentially instantaneous.

When you do a Google search online after installing the Google Desktop, the top line of the results will show any items that are on your local computer – automatically, without delay.

It’s remarkable technology. Similar products will be rolled out sooner or later by Microsoft, AOL and Yahoo, but it’s hard to imagine they will be more appealing. If you’ve ever compared the various toolbars for Internet Explorer, you’ll know what I mean – Google’s toolbar stands out for being simple, uncluttered, and mind-bogglingly useful.

Google’s index of the Internet deeply changed our world by making information instantly available about anything in the world. The impact will be just as huge when we can immediately find anything related to information we have stored on our own computers.

Google describes this release as a beta. Very conservative people should hold off until there’s more feedback about possible problems. The rest of you should look into this right away.

[It’s worth noting that one issue is still hazy tonight. Apparently the Google software does not index anything in a network shared folder, unless your My Documents folder is mapped to a network share. This is not yet an answer for businesses with company documents in a central location on a server. And I can’t find out whether it indexes information in Outlook Public Folders.]

[Both of those issues are addressed by X1, the software I’ve been using for several months. X1 has the additional feature of returning search results quite literally instantaneously – results are displayed on the fly as you type in a search query, narrowing in on what you’re looking for with every keystroke.]

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