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In an aggressive move that will pit Google against both Microsoft and Yahoo, the search giant has released an upgrade to its desktop search programme.

Dubbed Sidebar, the free programme will sit on a user's desktop pulling news stories, photographs, weather reports, stock quotes and other features onto a user's computer without the need to open a web browser. Google Desktop is also bundled into Sidebar, allowing users to search for files on their desktop directly from the toolbar.

Some elements of the new programme are similar to Yahoo's popular My Yahoo, a customisable web page that features content such as weather updates, stock quotes and news, relevant to the user.

Unlike My Yahoo though, Sidebar does not require the user to select content relevant to them, rather it observes what kind of content the user is interested in and serves it up. If this type of Big Brother element does not appeal to users, they can simply turn off many of the customisable functions.

Sidebar could also be seen to be directly attacking Microsoft's Office and its Windows operating system; users can type in "word" to the Quick Find tool, which will bring up an icon for Microsoft's ubiquitous word processing programme. This feature allows users to by-pass Microsoft's "Start" menu. Google's programme also incorporates a scratch pad function where users can type and save text notes.

Last Thursday, in its regulatory filing announcing its plans for a share offering valued at more than $4bn, Google identified Microsoft and Yahoo as its main rivals. Certainly the lucrative online search market has become increasingly competitive with the main players making similar announcements, such as e-mail capacity and desktop search, one after the other.

Without doubt, the search market is worth fighting for; in its recent online advertising forecast JupiterResearch predicted that in 2010, the global online advertising market will be worth $18.9bn, compared to $9.3bn at the end of 2004. In five years' time, the keyword search ads segment of the market will generate more revenue and will grow twice as fast as the banner ads segment, according to the research firm.

With Google's latest release though, it looks like the battlefield is widening to encompass the way in which PC users actually use their computers. Yahoo looks set to follow the lead of Google's Sidebar with the recent purchase of Pixora, which makes a software tool called a "Konfabulator Widget", giving computer users access to online information without using a browser.

Copyright © 2005, ENN

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