Google's latest software gives it more presence on the PC, taking the company farther beyond the traditional search business and into an area Microsoft has long dominated.

A new version of Google's free hard-drive search tool, released as a test version Monday, comes with an on-screen "sidebar" that allows users to see and access content from the Web and their own machines. Personal photos, news feeds, weather forecasts and e-mails are among the materials the optional sidebar displays.

The vertical sidebar appears without requiring users to first open a Web browser such as Microsoft's Internet Explorer.

Analysts said the design underscores the significance of the PC desktop in the market. The company that controls the desktop is in a better position to direct users to its own services. Traditionally, that has been Microsoft, maker of the dominant Windows operating system. But the new tool gives search leader Google a bigger beachhead than before.

It also introduces some features Microsoft doesn't plan to debut until the next version of Windows is released next year.

"If there's anything Microsoft should take away from this, it's that they better move their plans along pretty quickly," said Allen Weiner, an analyst with the Gartner Group.

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