Google, the leading Web search engine, is preparing to introduce a powerful file and text software tool for locating information stored on personal computers, a move which would enable it to compete with software giant Microsoft.
The software is expected to be introduced soon and is the clearest indication to date that Google hopes to extend its search business to compete directly with Microsoft's control of desktop computing, The New York Times quoted company sources as saying.
Improved technology for searching information stored on a personal computer, the daily said, will also be a crucial feature of Microsoft's long-delayed version of its Windows operating system called Longhorn.
That version, not expected before 2006 at the earliest, will have a redesigned file system, making it possible to track and retrieve information in ways not currently possible with Windows software.
Google's move, the daily said, is in part a defensive one, because the company is concerned about Microsoft's ability to make searching on the Web as well as on a PC a central part of its operating system.
By integrating more search functions into Windows, Microsoft could conceivably challenge Google the way it threatened, and destroyed, an earlier rival, Netscape, by incorporating web browsing into the Windows 98 operating system, the paper said.
A Google spokesman declined to comment about the new search tool.
Although Google's core business rests on huge farms of server computers that permit fast searching on the Internet, the company has already taken several steps to move beyond that business.
Last year, Google began testing a free programme called the Google Deskbar that makes it possible to search the Web by entering words and phrases in a small dialog box placed in the Windows desktop taskbar at the bottom of the computer screen.
Google also sells a computer search system designed to index and retrieve information created and stored by a single organisation.