Google Inc. yesterday released new software that collects information based on a computer user's behavior and displays updates of news, weather, Web sites and unopened e-mail messages on a toolbar on the side of the screen.
The test product, called Google Desktop 2, is the second incarnation of a program launched last fall. By using Google's trademark search software, it aims to be a more personalized version of products such as Apple Computer Inc.'s Dashboard and Yahoo Inc.'s Konfabulator, programs that deliver icons to the screen and keep photo, alarm clock, scheduling, music, currency converters and news applications running while the computer is in use.
"It functions as an intelligent Web agent," said Nikhil Bhatla, Google Desktop product manager. The software indexes a Microsoft Windows user's previous Web searches, pages visited and photos saved, and automatically customizes the toolbar to reflect those preferences.
At least initially, the software won't generate money for Mountain View, Calif.-based Google, which does not currently plan to sell advertisements on Desktop 2, according to Bhatla.
But it gives Google a higher profile on the computer monitor, and that in turn gives the company potentially greater control over the user's behavior, said Greg Sterling, an analyst with the Kelsey Group, a firm that researches the directory and local media business.
"They want to make themselves an entry point for all of your needs," he said. If users find Desktop 2 useful and download it in large numbers, for example, it may begin to compete with the browser as an entry point into the Web, siphoning traffic away from Microsoft Corp.'s popular Internet Explorer.
If a user has searched for weather in Arlington, for instance, the Desktop toolbar will show the day's weather and the next-day forecast. If the user checked up on a stock the previous day, Desktop will display the latest trading price of that stock, updated every minute. News clips from frequented sites are updated every 10 minutes. Blog clips are updated every 30 minutes. At the bottom of the toolbar is a tool that allows the user to search content on the computer, as well as the Web.
Windows of information can be turned on or off, according to the user's preference. So, for example, a Google e-mail user can add a window to display the newest incoming messages on the toolbar.
As Google adds more features to the toolbar, Sterling said, "it circumvents the need to do things on a Microsoft [operating system]."
But Desktop 2 faces some hurdles. With so much software already available, and with threats of spyware and viruses on the Internet, many consumers are weary of downloading additional software, Sterling said.