Google Desktop: A pretty lousy Mac OS X application

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh, Technology
April 4th, 2007 • 3:41 pm

I really don’t mind Google as a search engine, but as a Mac OS X software developer, it clearly has a long, long way to go.

Just a few random notes after attempting to install the new Google Desktop application on my machine:

  • The “Install Google Desktop” button on Google’s web page did not work for me in Safari. Clicking on it took me to the “Thank You” page, but the download process never started. I ended up switching to Camino just to be able to get the initial “GoogleDesktop.dmg” download. You’d think that, for a Mac OS X application, it would work with Mac OS X’s default browser… Not so, as far as I can tell.
  • In spite of its name, the “GoogleDesktop.dmg” image file does not contain the entire application. It just contains a 3 MB installer application, which in turns downloads what it needs from Google’s servers. I hate these multiple-step installers that prevent you from downloading the entire application at once as a single file. As the end user, I should have complete control over what I download and when I download it. Google, like Adobe, appears unable to grasp this concept.
  • When mounted, the “GoogleDesktop.dmg” image file is a volume that contains a single application called “Double Click to Install Google Desktop.app.” Oh dear. Memo to Google: An application is an application—not a billboard to display messages intended for the user. I really do think that, as long as you call your installer application (if you really have to have one) something like “Google Desktop Installer.app,” any sensible user will know that he’s supposed to double-click on the application to open it.
  • Double-clicking on “Double Click to Install Google Desktop.app” does not actually launch an application called “Double Click to Install Google Desktop.app.” Well, it does, but then it immediately quits and launches another application called “Google Updater,” which has a different icon. Where is this application coming from? Well, the “Show in Finder” Dock menu command reveals that it’s actually an application located inside the “Double Click to Install Google Desktop.app” package, at “”Double Click to Install Google Desktop.app/Contents/Resources/Google Updater.app.” Eek.
  • Why is the installer application called “Google Updater” when I haven’t installed anything yet? How can I “update” something that hasn’t been installed yet? Geez.
  • The first thing that the “Google Updater” application asks you to do is to “Please quit application.” The fine print says that what they actually mean is “You must quit System Preferences to install Google Desktop” (the missing period at the end of this sentence is theirs, not mine). Oh dear. Don’t you think you could handle this yourselves, Google folks?
  • If you happen to be in another application when the Google Updater application displays this dialog and requires your attention, the application icon starts bouncing in the Dock. Even if you see the “Please quit application” dialog in the background, you cannot bring it to the foreground by simply clicking on it. Instead, you must click on the the Google Updater Dock icon.
  • The only button in that “Please quit application” dialog is… “OK.” If you click on it, the main Google Updater window displays a dialog sheet asking you if you want to “Cancel Installation?” What on earth makes you think I want to cancel the installation, you idiot? Just because I didn’t immediately quit System Preferences when you instructed me and instead dismissed the “ Please quit application ” dialog first? No wait… Even if you do quit System Preferences before dismissing the “Please quit application” dialog, Google Updater still asks you if you want to cancel the installation!
  • OK, so now you’ve quit System Preferences, launched Google Updater, and you are past the stage where it asks you if you want to cancel the installation. The first thing that Google Updater asks you is to type in your admin password. Be warned: This is not the only time it will ask for the password. It asks for the password to start the downloading process, and then it asks for the password again when it comes time to install the downloaded application. Dear oh dear. They’ve already managed to be as bad as Adobe’s CS/CS2 installers.
  • If you have Little Snitch installed, be warned: You will have to give the application permission to connect to the Internet multiple times, even if you select to always authorize it to access the Internet on port 80, because during the process of installing Google Desktop, the installer actually manages to run five different individual applications: Google Updater, GoogleUpdateChecker, GoogleUpdateDownloader, GoogleUpdateInstaller, and GoogleDesktopAgent! Of course, Little Snitch treats each of these applications separately and asks for permission for each one. (GoogleDesktopAgent actually wants to access the Internet via port 443 [https].)
  • Google Updater then finally starts downloading the application (approximately 4 MB). As indicated above, once it’s downloaded, the application asks for your admin password again to install the application. The application also displays two additional sections at the bottom of its main window, one called “My Software” (eek) and one called “Explore Google Products” (eek eek). The two sections are collapsed, with triangles to expand them. Even once the software is downloaded and installed and Google Updater tells you it’s finished, the “My Software” section remains empty when you expand it. If you expand “My Software,” it just displays two column headings, “Installed” and “Size,” but the section remains empty. It is only if you quit and relaunch the Google Updater that the installed software finally appears in that section.
  • Although I was not actually able to reproduce this a second time. (I saw it once.) Right now, each time I relaunch Google Updater, it starts downloading the Google Desktop application from Google’s servers again, as if it was not already installed (even though it’s there in my Applications folder).
  • When I quit the Google Updater application that I launched from the disk image, the disk image is automatically unmounted. WTF?
  • After the installation is complete, if I launch System Preferences and go to the “Google Desktop” preference pane that was installed (which is why the System Preferences application had to be quit—but other third-party installers are able to do this automatically), the third tab in the preference pane is labelled “Feedback” and has a section labelled “Update/Uninstall.” What the hell is the “Update/Uninstall” section doing under “Feedback”?
  • In that “Update/Uninstall” section under “Feedback,” there is a button called “Open Google Updater…” But if I click on it, nothing happens. Through trial and error, I was able to determine that, in order for this button to work, you actually need the “GoogleDesktop.dmg” image file with the “Double Click to Install Google Desktop.app” application to be mounted. (Remember that Google Updater automatically unmounts it when you quit it.) Does this mean that I actually should copy the “Double Click to Install Google Desktop.app” application to my hard drive’s Applications folder? I honestly have no idea and no interest in trying. The “Double Click to Install Google Desktop.app” application in the disk image told me in no uncertain terms to double-click on it, not to copy it! UPDATE: The next day, when I tried clicking on the “Open Google Updater…” button again, out of curiosity, it decided that this time, it was going to try and launch an application called “Google Updater.app.” But that application is located… in a “Google” folder inside the main library’s “Application Support” folder. Because of this unusual location, Mac OS X displays a dialog telling you that it’s the first time you are attempting to launch this application and asking you to confirm that you want to launch this application indeed. (It’s a safety measure in Mac OS X for all applications that are not installed in the “Applications” folder.)
  • When the “Open Google Updater…” button does actually work and does open the “Google Updater.app” application, it immediately quits the System Preferences application after that, whether you like it or not. Dear oh dear.
  • By default, on my machine Google Desktop only indexed the startup volume. (There was a line with a progress indicator at the bottom of the preference pane for a while. It didn’t take very long.) When I check my “Documents” partition in the list to get Google Desktop to index that partition as well, Google Desktop doesn’t do any indexing that I can see. It does, however, ask for my admin password again. (It actually started indexing later on, when I returned to the preference pane. The indexing is still in progress as I write this. But obviously I have little control over it.)

Apart from that, you know, Google Desktop does look like a regular Mac OS X application. And, you know, it might even actually work. Although I have already noticed the following:

  • Google Desktop.app is an application and does appear both in the Dock and in the application switcher. But when you press command-Tab quickly to switch from Google Desktop to something else and then again to switch back, Mac OS X does not switch back to Google Desktop. It switches to the Finder instead.
  • Google Desktop is like Spotlight in that it starts searching as soon as you type in the first character. It doesn’t wait for a Return keystroke. I hate this because it causes some huge responsiveness problems, at least in Spotlight. But Google Desktop is actually worse than Spotlight: In Spotlight, you can avoid the “search as you type” behaviour by typing the text in another application and then copying and pasting it into the Spotlight search field. Google Desktop does not accept cut-and-paste. You cannot paste anything in its search field. You must type out your search request.
  • The default keyboard shortcut for Google Desktop is “Press Command/Apple key twice.” Sounds like a good idea in theory. In practice, it is a terrible choice. In the space of five minutes, I have already managed to accidentally invoke Google Desktop several times when I simply meant to type some totally unrelated command-Something keyboard shortcut in another application.

So there you have it. Google is making Mac OS X software. Yey. Everyone rejoice.

I am obviously no big fan of Spotlight’s user interface. But based on this early evidence, Google Desktop is not going to give it much competition.


5 Responses to “Google Desktop: A pretty lousy Mac OS X application”

  1. Google desktop for mac - The Apple Blog Community says:

    [...] Google Desktop gets blasted over at Betalogue. I think that’s all I need to know. [...]

  2. Arden says:

    Thank you for solidifying the reasons not to install Google Desktop. When first I read about it, I thought, “Oh goody, Google thinks they can outdo Spotlight—no thanks.” Now I’m thinking, “Oh goody, Google thinks they’re a competent Mac developer, though apparently they’ve confused ‘competent’ with ‘crack-smoking.’ Hells no.” Forgive me for not wanting to go through that kind of installation hell for something I don’t even need.

  3. Pierre Igot says:

    In addition, Google Desktop doesn’t even index all the documents that Spotlight does (which are only a subset of all available documents to begin with). For example, it doesn’t index Pages documents. Oops.

  4. Paul Ingraham says:

    Wow! Yuck! Seems like Google gets more like Microsoft every day. So much for not being evil!

    Thanks for the warning, Pierre. To think I almost bothered…

  5. Marion Delgado says:

    I got literally nothing whatsoever out of Google Desktop. Every single function was dependent on logging in, and all the applications give “bad certificate.” Google seems to have nothing but those, but at least a browser gives you the choice of accepting them anyway.

    Google Desktop, as far as I can see, does not have an OS X edition, it’s simply a joke.

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