As frustrated as I’ve been with Spotlight and all that I think it should be able to do but just doesn’t quite get right, I was interested in today’s news that Google Desktop is finally available for the Mac. Finally, I can search my Gmail account from my desktop and use some more sophisticated search syntax. This could be quite handy and should really put the pressure on Apple to beef up Spotlight in its Leopard release.
But, as is usual with every useful new tool Google releases, this one comes with something that gets me a little nervous (beyond the anxiety associated with the fact that I’ve become increasingly reliant on Google for so much of my information storage and retrieval). I’m talking about this “feature,” pointed out by The Unofficial Apple Weblog:
Thanks to the way that Google Desktop works, it can even search files that you have deleted from your system. Google Desktop creates a cache on your machine that holds information about the various files that it has indexed.
Now, I don’t know about you, but when I delete a file, I generally want to delete it. There may be a few occasions when I accidentally or thoughtlessly delete something I’ll actually need later, but I’m more concerned with others searching for sensitive material on my computer that I’ve already decided I want gone, and I’m sure others will find plenty of other reasons for not wanting Google Desktop keeping a cache of their entire file history.
That’s why I was happy to find that the TUAW article goes on to suggest that you can actually turn off caching:
Luckily, you can tell Google Desktop not to keep cached copies of deleted files.
That would be great news, if it were true, but it turns out that what I assumed was insider information (based, perhaps, on communication with Google during prerelease evaluation) turned out to be just an ungrounded assumption. I decided to put this preference change to the test, going just just beyond where TUAW ended their own trial.
First, I did everything TUAW did, substituting “randomgobbledygook” (a word I was pretty sure didn’t appear anywhere on my computer) for “tuawrocks” in their scenario:
I created a test document that simply said ‘tuawrocks,’ a phrase that was no where on my computer before I created this file. Both Google Desktop and Spotlight immediately found the file when I searched for the phrase ‘tuawrocks.’ I then deleted the file, emptied my Trash, and searched for ‘tuawrocks’ once more. As you would expect Spotlight informed me that there were no files that met my criteria, but Google Desktop had a cached version of the file that I was able to look at (much like Google’s web cache that allows you to look at websites that have gone offline for whatever reason).
Looking at the “Search Results” area of the Preferences pane, I questioned the name of the “Display results for deleted documents” (emphasis mine) setting, which suggests that this preference is actually a display issue only, not an indexing or caching change. So, I unchecked the setting:
Then, I ran the test again with a file called “morerandomgobbledygook,” deleting it after I created it and confirmed that Google Desktop had indexed it. As you would expect, after I emptied the trash, it didn’t show up in my search results. But all I had to do was go back into the Preference pane and re-enable “Display results for deleted documents”:
Then, by gosh, running that search for “morerandomgobbledygook” brought that cached file right up:
Clicking on the search result opens the entire file (in this case, a text file) in your default browser, like so:
So, if all you’re trying to do is unclutter your search results by getting rid of distracting cached files, you can certainly do that. But beware that you’re not actually keeping Google Desktop from creating, keeping, and indexing those (deleted) cached files. I’m looking forward to that ability in a future release … unless some enterprising hacker out there can give it to me first.