Google Inc, the most-used Internet search engine, introduced a tool that automatically displays Web content such as news and weather on users' computer screens, posing a threat to products from Microsoft Corp and Yahoo! Inc.
The Google product, a vertical sidebar that pops up without first launching a Web browser such as Microsoft's Internet Explorer, can also search for files and launch programs, said Nikhil Bhatla, a Google product manager.
Google's tool, contained in an update of the Mountain View, California-based company's software that searches computer files, resembles features offered by Apple Computer Inc and Yahoo. The tool poses a challenge to Microsoft, which plans to build new search features into the next version of the Windows operating system.
"If there's anything Microsoft should take away from this, it's that they better move their plans along pretty quickly," said Allen Weiner, a Scottsdale, Arizona-based analyst at Gartner Inc.
Microsoft released a program to locate files on a user's computer in December. Yahoo followed with its own version in January.
Google shares rose US$0.01 to US$280 in NASDAQ Stock Market composite trading last Friday, after rising 45 percent this year.
Microsoft shares fell US$0.10 to US$26.72 and are unchanged this year. Shares of Yahoo fell US$0.36 to US$34 and have fallen 9.8 percent this year.
Content in the Google sidebar can include e-mail messages and links to frequently used Web sites. Users can also view photos and make notes on a virtual note pad.
Customers who download the tool can opt to have Google monitor the Web sites they visit. The company will then use that information to select news items to display in the sidebar that are related to their Web-surfing habits.
The new version also lets users launch applications from a Google search box by typing in the name of the program they want to load.
"It's much more convenient than going through the start menu," Google's Bhatla said. "We're improving the speed with which users are finding items on their desktop."
Yahoo, Google and Microsoft's MSN are competing to lure users with new functions as the companies vie to expand their share of Internet searches and the growing market for Internet advertising.
Google's new tool may increase user loyalty, said Greg Sterling, an analyst with market researcher Kelsey Group Inc in San Francisco.
The company had 56 percent of global search queries in June, compared with 48 percent a year earlier, according to ComScore Networks, which tracks Web use. Sunnyvale, California-based Yahoo's share fell to 22 percent from 26 percent and Microsoft Corp's MSN search engine rose to 11 percent from 10 percent.
To assuage privacy concerns, Bhatla said Google will only track Web pages visited by users who give their consent. He said no "personally identifiable" information will be collected by Google.
Similar to Apple and Yahoo's products, independent programmers will be able to create their own additions to the Google sidebar, such as a monitor to keep track of auctions on EBay Inc, or a controller for Apple's iTunes music program, Bhatla said. Hundreds of those so-called widgets have been created for Apple and Yahoo's software.
Cupertino, California-based Apple, maker of the Macintosh personal computers, included software widgets in its Tiger operating system released in April. Yahoo, the most visited Web site and No. 2 search engine, in July bought Pixoria Inc to add its own widgets.