Desktop Searching on Linux

Last week Google entered the realm of Linux desktop searching with their release of the Google Desktop for Linux. This is big news for Linux users because it brings the extremely popular desktop indexing and searching tool to their desktop. However, it also means that they have yet another choice in the field of applications they can use to index and search their data.

This week, we are going to look at some of the available programs for indexing and searching your desktop under Linux. We are going to look at Beagle, Meta Tracker, and even Google Desktop. We will look at some of the differences between the programs. What they index by default as well as what they can be made to index.

Why Index Your Data?

Indexing data is not an entirely new concept, but has grown in popularity as users place files anywhere on their PC rather than in specific folders. You have the files you download, the files you create, the files you modify, and even the files you do not remember having. All those files are in different places on your computer and finding them is sometimes a chore. If a program indexes and catalogs all that data, the data can then be searched on.

The way people organize their data is changing. People are a lot more “careless” with the placement of their data. Unless they work with a large amount of documents, they just save to whatever the default save location for a program is. They do this without forethought or insight into being able to find it later. They just assume the program will open up to it later without fail. The issue with this is that when a user can not find the document, the normal “Find” does not always work. It especially fails when the user can not remember the name of the document or file but remembers the contents.

This is where indexing comes into play. A desktop indexing tool like Google Desktop will not only index the file names but it will index the contents of some of the more popular/accessible data types. So not only will it remember the name of that party planning document, it will index the contents which include the time of the event, the caterer’s name as well as address, and the contact at the hotel where the room you are renting is at. So searching on the caterer’s name via the indexing program’s search tool will result in finding that document.

Our Desktop Indexing Options

Linux had desktop searching before Windows did (about 1 year before, if you were willing to install alpha software on your Linux install). For our purposes, we are going to focus on Begale and Meta Tracker as our alternatives for Google Desktop.

Beagle

Beagle was probably the first desktop indexing software to be made available on the Linux desktop. Orginially conceived and designed as a backend for the Dashboard project, this piece of software is installed by default on most Linux installs today. Especially on the SuSE Desktop. Written entirely in C# and utilizing the Mono runtime libraries, there is some overhead involved in using Beagle.

One huge advantage of Beagle on Linux systems, is that it integrates extremely well into the Gnome desktop. Because of this fact, it is widely used and accepted as the defacto standard of Linux desktop searching.

Meta Tracker

Meta Tracker is an alternative to the Beagle desktop indexing/searching engine. It currently only supports documents, images, music, and text based files but planned support includes playlists, applications, email, and even IM conversations. Due to its lacking support for items that Beagle does by default, Meta Tracker is less popular than Beagle. However, because Tracker is written in C, it has much less overhead and indexes faster than Beagle currently does.

Like I said, Meta Tracker currently does not have support for IM conversations, and in a world where IM is becoming a business communications tool, not being able to search IM logs is a major downside. Also the lack of email indexing support is not helping either. The support is there but it is primarily for development purposes only at the moment. Hopefully they can get Meta Tracker to support more data types quickly, because if they can, it is a potential replacement for Beagle due to its lack of overhead.

Google Desktop

Probably, hands down, one of the most popular desktop indexing/searching applications out there today. Previously only available on Windows, Google Desktop is fairly extendable and includes Google Gadgets and a nifty little optional sidebar. However, those features seem to be missing from the Linux version but I would bet that they are not too far behind. Google Desktop does have a unique downside to the other two applications we have mentioned. And that is the fact that there are some privacy issues when using Google Desktop. If you want to Google to search your desktop from their website, it requires they send a little bit of data to them.

Currently search results are opened in a web browser. This can be kind of annoying but it is Google after all. I would like to see some of the cooler features that are available in the Windows version to make their way into the Linux version.

Conclusion

If you want something that integrates nicely into the desktop, Beagle is still the way to go. However, if Google can get its Linux version of Google Desktop to include some of the features currently found in the Windows version, Google Desktop can really make a serious play for Linux desktop searching.

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