Ahead in the Clouds: The Future of Desktop Search
by Bill Greenwood
For Christopher Walton, senior director of products for X1 Technologies, Inc., the term “desktop search” is more than a little misleading. According to him, the future of this field stretches far beyond the insular world of a user’s personal computer. Rather, it’s in the clouds.
“If you were to try to classify desktop search, I think the biggest thing, and I think where X1 really is a pioneer and an innovator, is in that belief that the desktop is a misnomer,” he says. “The desktop in today’s world really encompasses more than just the information on the local disc.”
Walton isn’t alone in this belief. Industry analyst Dave Goebel, president of Goebel Group, Inc., and Google vice president of product development Sundar Pichai also pointed to the indexing of web-based information as key to the future of desktop search. In fact, X1 and Google have already added this capability to their own offerings: the X1 Professional Client and Google Desktop.
Sharing Cloud Cover
X1’s product is part of the company’s Enterprise Search Suite and works with the other two parts of the package—X1 Enterprise Server and X1 Content Connectors—to allow users to index and search network file shares, PST archives, RSS and Atom feeds, email, web services, and relational databases. According to Walton, these abilities create a single interface through which users can access all of the applications they need to do their jobs.
“Today, unfortunately, in order to find data, you have to go to lots of different data sources to do your search, and unfortunately, in business, you don’t really get the opportunity to just give up, but people are doing just that or they’re moving forward with incomplete or wrong information,” he says. “So, it’s very important to be able to have a single interface.”
Google Desktop also allows users to go beyond their desktops when searching for files, but in a way that targets a more mainstream audience. After indexing the information stored on users’ computers, the program allows them to search email, files, music, photos, chats, Gmail, and viewed webpages using a quick search bar reminiscent of the one used on Google.com.
“The goal was [that] we really wanted to try and bridge the desktop and the web, and so we wanted people to search the desktop the same way they would search Google.com,” Pichai says. “So, open a box, don’t worry about whether your document is in your computer or on the web, and just type that in.”
According to Goebel, who spoke about the future of desktop search at the Enterprise Search Summit this May in New York, the shift away from the desktop and toward the web is the result of the “consumerization of IT,” which he says has caused companies to believe that “users don’t care where the data’s stored. They just want to get to it and use it to make decisions in the business.” However, he says he doesn’t expect the desktop to be forgotten.
“If you look at the entire search ecosystem, the desktop is a critical part of that in the fact that, in my opinion, that’s where the interface is and that’s where people spend their time,” he says.
The future, he says, now lies in bringing mobile devices into the mix so users can have access to all of their information wherever they go.
“I think that’s where a lot of people are heading, especially with cloud computing and things like that,” he says.
More on the Way?
But searching the cloud isn’t the only new development Goebel saw coming down the pike. He says he expects several vendors to come forward with products, including document authorization and encryption, looking to address security concerns that many individuals may have regarding the availability of information over the web. He also says he thinks users will eventually be able to search their desktops via voice recognition.
“If you have a microphone on your PC or you’re using a headset, then [users] could start the search with an audio command and let the computer go find it and pull up the results,” he says. “That’s a neat feature that’s going to be coming down the road.”
However, Walton and Pichai say their companies have no plans to implement voice recognition within their programs. According to Walton, the demand for such a service is simply not there.
“We have 300-plus enterprise customers and a very large deal with a top-five bank,” he says, “and no customer that we’ve ever talked to has asked us for any sort of voice recognition.”
However, Walton and Pichai also say their programs will work with outside programs that convert speech to text, such as Nuance Communications, Inc.’s Dragon NaturallySpeaking.
What It Means for the Industry
Goebel says all of these developments could have a huge impact on the industry, with many companies missing the opportunity to innovate and closing up shop as a result. However, he says we can expect a rush of new ideas until that happens.
“If you look at the Enterprise Search Summit over the past few years, the vendors have gotten bigger, and larger vendors have purchased smaller vendors, and it’s getting to that point,” he says. “When that happens, you might have less innovation, but until then, I think whoever can innovate the fastest and try to do something that’s not destructive will cause people to want that product.”
But Walton and Pichai aren’t worried. Both say they are excited about their respective desktop search products and are working on a variety of new features to make them even better. For them, desktop search is an incredibly important field and one they will not be abandoning anytime soon.
“We care about it a lot at Google,” says Pichai. “In many ways, it’s the core of our mission, which is to bring all the information in the world to our users.”