Unanticipated Google Hacks

by Henry Farrell on December 14, 2004

I downloaded “Google Desktop”:http://desktop.google.com/ a couple of weeks ago, and have found it invaluable – it’s greatly superior to the standard Windows search tools. But up until a few minutes ago, I didn’t realize that it could serve as a sort of rough-and-ready backup tool to boot. I loaded up a Word document that I’d been working on recently, and found (as occasionally happens) that most of my work had somehow disappeared, through the vagaries of Windows, or my having pressed the wrong key at some stage or another, or some combination of the two. None of the temporary files were still on my hard drive, so I more or less resigned myself to having to recreate several days work. But then I decided to use Google Desktop search to trawl my hard drive on the off chance that it was still in existence somewhere – and discovered that Google creates and retains several caches of all Word documents that you are working on, so that you can go back and see earlier versions, and, if necessary, cut and paste old material that has somehow gone missing back into your document. It’s not an ideal solution (you lose formatting etc) – but it beats the hell out of having to rewrite something that you had already spent a lot of time on.



jet 12.14.04 at 1:31 am

Swa-eet find!


Andrew McManama 12.14.04 at 2:02 am

That’s really great… Now if I could only make GDT do that for c++ source files, I’d be able to sleep tonight. Instead I’ll be re-coding this in order to submit this paper by noon tomorrow *_*


P O'Neill 12.14.04 at 2:32 am

the downside is that it’s chewing up a big amount of your hard drive space to maintain all this information.


Alan 12.14.04 at 3:40 am

Not too long ago, I had a similar serendipitous save: A chunk of my weblog was lost in a server failure, and I was able to recover all the lost material by looking up my RSS feed at Bloglines. That was pretty cool.


nick 12.14.04 at 3:57 am

the downside is that it’s chewing up a big amount of your hard drive space to maintain all this information.

But hard drive space is cheap these days, especially compared to the time spent looking for files or retrieving lost ones.


Nicholas Gruen 12.14.04 at 4:04 am

Yep, I discovered this recently too – bloody marvellous.


Adam Kotsko 12.14.04 at 5:26 am

I don’t have a big enough hard drive to support a huge cache like that, but I have taken advantage of Gmail’s practically limitless capacity in order to send a version of papers in progress to myself after each days’ work. Since my academic career is still in its infancy, I could easily store my complete oeuvre on Google’s dime.

Has anyone figured out how Google’s ever going to make money? Or is the investing community just taking a massive hit for the sake of the common good?


Jason 12.14.04 at 7:07 am

They are making money already – off advertising.


Mill 12.14.04 at 7:10 am

According to Google, they are profitable.


Special Google solutions for corporate clients plus a middleman cut from GoogleAds, I guess.


Justin 12.14.04 at 7:27 am

yeah but google desktop achives this nifty trick by comprimising security and privacy.

by the time the next version of windows comes out there will be search built in and that will kill desktop search.

personally I think google desktop search is just a way for google to stick their middle finger up at microsoft… afterall they could have worked within the windows security framework and thus around many of the privacy holes, and they chose not to.


anon 12.14.04 at 8:38 am


Microsoft has shown with the recent MSN Beta that they have no clue how to do search.

And can you blame Google for wanting to hurt Microsoft? Not only are they a commercial rival, they’ve done immeasurable harm to the computing industry as a whole.


Duane 12.14.04 at 10:16 am

Andrew, as a coder you should really be using version control. Actually the same may apply to some of the rest of you, too. Although you only get the full benefits when your documents are stored in a text-based format, so it is maybe not so useful for Word users.

Personally, I couldn’t work without a version control system, even when I’m just playing around with toy code on my own. It is so much easier to keep track of what you’re doing, especially if you leave something for a while and then come back to it. It also allows you to make radical, wide-reaching changes without worrying you’re not going to be able to revert back if something goes wrong.

At home and at work I use Subversion, which I can strongly recommend. The windows installer should install it with zero-effort, and the wonderful Tortoise client integrates seemlessly with your explorer, so you can do everything by just pointing and clicking. I think you may need to use the command-line once to setup your repository, but that is as simple as doing a “svnadmin create Repository” in the directory you want it. It also has excellent documentation.


Simon 12.14.04 at 11:11 am

It caches deleted emails too which can be handy occasionally.


Justin 12.14.04 at 11:47 am


I didn’t say that microsoft was good a search let alone better than google… but they don’t have to be. If its in the OS then more people are going to use it…. and i’m confident that they will figure out search before the offical release of the next generation windows.

Everyone said microsoft couldn’t do the internet but they did produce IE, which despite all its flaws was the superior browser for many years (until firefox).

And you can argue that microsoft achived this dominance through using unfair business practices… but the reality is that dominance of IE has been good for the web in that it created common standards for developers.


yabonn 12.14.04 at 12:52 pm

About google search, it clashes with Opera. The pages stop loading at one third and various other oddities. So beware.

Opera which is, incidentally, the One True Browser, and by a margin, if you’re into multi tabbing and mouse gestures.


John Kozak 12.14.04 at 1:26 pm

IE’s dominance has been terrible for the web – the standards it imposed were subtly broken variants of the real ones. Good for MS, crap for everyone else.


novalis 12.14.04 at 5:56 pm

justin: Search for “box model” on Google. One of the first ten hits will be the W3C standard’s description of the box model.

The other nine will mention (in one case, at a one-link remove) bugs in Internet Explorer’s implementation of it.

The box model is how web pages are layed out. It is fortunate that Internet Explorer has other bugs which allowed the broken box model to be worked around. I think it’s now fixed (after 3 years of brokenness, plus another year of market penetration time to get to 50%),

The only good thing you can say about Microsoft’s dominance was that it led to the freeing of Netscape, which led to the absolutely wonderful Firefox. But if the best thing you can say about proprietary software is that it inspires Free software, why not just do Free software in the first place?


Shai 12.14.04 at 8:52 pm

It would be nice if they supported PDF; and non local drives without tricking the program. The only feature stopping me from switching to the MSN desktop search is the caching of previously browsed web pages.


Russkie 12.15.04 at 9:12 am

Sort of off-topic:

Gmail has a really smart feature – which is that it rewrites URLs contained in email hyperlinks when they don’t match the URL contained in the email text.

If Microsoft would put this feature into Outlook it would protect all the naive users getting sucked into phishing scams.


Paul Asad 12.15.04 at 9:33 pm

you might want to read my post
http://truckandbarter.com/mt/archives/000287.html on Google and
Known unknowns; my favourite
search tool is Copernic

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