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Microsoft’s Windows operating system is facing stiffer competition these days from the open-source Linux operating system, symbolized by its penguin mascot, Tux. And soon the Redmond, WA, giant could be under assault by another funny-looking bird, the puffin. Puffin is Google’s code name for a new piece of software that searches files on users’ local hard drives – software that Google plans to offer free to users soon, according to a John Markoff article in today’s New York Times. If the Puffin tool helps people find forgotten files faster than the search tools built into Windows, consumers might start thinking of Google as a one-stop source for all of their search needs – which is, of course, exactly what Google hopes will happen, preferably well in advance of the appearance of Longhorn, the next-generation Windows operating system that will also integrate desktop and Internet searches.

Puffin appears to be closely related to the Google Deskbar, another piece of free software released by Google last year. Early versions of that program, which allows users to search the Internet without opening a Web browser, were also code-named Puffin. The ability to search local files would be a logical addition to the program.

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