Google announced today it will stop doing one of the three things it does so well I prefer to let it do them rather than do them myself.
Google announced earlier today it will retire Desktop, the search application it launched in 2004 to make itself a space on the desktop by showing Windows users what it would be like to have a working search function on their computers rather than Windows Search.
Desktop is one of a lot of applications and projects Google has announced it's dropping since co-founder Larry Page took over as CEO in order, he said, to "put more wood behind fewer arrows."
Good metaphor, Larry, bad idea.
Google does a lot of things, for a lot of people. A lot of people value all the things it does.
When it comes right down to it, though, search is the only thing Google has ever done really, really well.
Search is why I use News and Books and Images and Maps and Custom Search.
They find me things I want to know, find places I want to go and – on an Android phone using Maps and GPS – take me right there.
The most important thing Google does, the most intimate, most frequent, most inimitable and irreplaceable thing Google does for me, is find all the little bits of things I used to know, used to have to remember and lets me put them in little files on my computer and quit worrying about them.
I don't even have to remember they're there. I just have to search for something using words I would use to describe it and Google Desktop brings up a list of files containing those words so I can choose the one I want or decide it's not there after all.
Before Desktop I had to keep all the bits of information of one kind all together in one file, and put every file in a specific, rigid hierarchy according to topic, location, employer, purpose or other thread that seemed common to them all at the time.
If I forgot which directory I put the file in, what the file's name was or even whether I put it in a Word, Notepad or Excel file, there was a good chance I would never find it.
Windows Search would never find it, but would let me grow old while it looked.
None of them had the winning combination of free, quick and accurate that made Google Desktop so perfect.
Now it's extraneous. It doesn't deliver eyeballs to advertisers the way other Google services do.
Very few of those are any good, though, and I've tried them all. Most I've tried more than once because I assumed if everyone else loved whatever the latest thing was, I must be doing something wrong.
No matter how many people say they couldn't live without Gmail it's still clunky to use, harder to access than it should be and less intuitive even than the more functionally limited Yahoo mail, let alone desktop apps that more productivity features.
Google Voice? A great idea that sucks in practice.
Talk offers nothing other chat apps don't and it's way too heavily cross-promoted with other Google apps and ads.
Picasa is fine if you spend as much time taking pictures of yourself doing things as you spend on the things themselves, then need to demonstrate to other people that you’ve done them. I don't have the patience.
Google Apps are great for small businesses, but I've never heard one rave about features or ease of use or anything except price.
Google Docs is OK. So is Reader, Groups, Blogger and many of the others. They're all exactly as OK as half a dozen competitors each; none sticks out as offering something no other app does – something that really makes my life or work any easier.
Desktop makes both much easier.
Windows Search is so much better now than it was in 2004 that it's pointless to even compare. It's still slower, clunkier and less useful than Desktop except when you're searching for something it really cares about: .dll files or sysinfo or .exes.
Even then Windows Search is slower and less flexible than Search Everything, a blazingly fast, amazingly stable piece of freeware.
Together, Everything and Desktop let me find anything on my computer or external storage so fast I don't usually have to think about where to look for it.
I rely on them, especially Desktop, for information I already have in the same way I rely on Search to find things on the Web and Maps to find places I want to go and then take me there (using GPS on an Android phone).
Together those three things save me unbelievable amounts of time looking for things that would take a lot more effort to do on my own. With them I don't even think about the need; I just use the product.
There's something special about piece of technology that fits so well into your life and all the things you think about from minute to minute.
Few tools some close; few people come close. If you don't hold tight to those that do, you're insane.
But you can't hold on to them when they leave or break or fail to become the right kind of wood behind the right kind of arrow.
You can explain to Google why that particular product is important and to Larry Page why he should trim away enough of that untested-by-reality business-school analysis he's been doing and look at some of the products he's killing like a computer geek instead of a Wharton wannabe.
Desktop doesn't bring users to your ad pages; it doesn't get them to hand over personal data for accounts for a service in the cloud, doesn't migrate them to paid services or partner marketplaces; it doesn't slice, dice or julienne them into tasty treats you can sell by the pound to advertisers or barbecue to help offset the free-food bill in Google cafeterias.
It does put your name in front of millions of them every day – at so high a level of reliance and intimacy that the positive impact of Desktop is enough to leave most of them with attitudes toward Google positive enough to give you an opportunity to sell them almost anything.
Giving that kind of help, free, makes people think of you less as the just some company trying to sell them some random mix of advertising and irrelevant-seeming cloud services and more like a company that knows what's actually important to your customers and is willing to go the extra mile to give it to them.
Now that you're dropping Desktop – one of the oldest, most consistent, most popular products in the company's history – you're that much less relevant, less of a daily presence to those of us who have a whole bookmark-list of search engines that specialize in areas we might be following, or the one or two other GPS services that came on the Android phones we bought from someone else.
Thanks for all the help from Desktop, Larry. It's interesting to see how you've grown up and the kind of business savvy you picked up along the way.
Good luck with whatever line of work you get into next.
Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.