In my NewsLink Monthly Spotlight article for the April 2000 issue, I wrote about some smart search tools that help to improve the Web-searching experience, several of which involved downloading an application to a desktop. One of the tools was Google Browser Buttons, which allows users of the popular search engine (http://www.google.com) to add one-click button access to their browsers that lets them highlight a word on a Web page and click the Google Search button to search for related information.
Now, a year later, Google has introduced a new tool that greatly expands capabilities beyond what the Browser Buttons did. This new search tool has not only intrigued me enough to try it, but has managed to maintain a place on my desktop for more than just a few weeks-so far, at least. Actually, some of the downloaded applications I've tried behaved so poorly on my desktop that they didn't last long at all before I did an uninstall. Some desktop apps seemed to grab control and became very irritating. One had a glitch that had it dialing into my ISP every 2 minutes, with no way to disable it. That one didn't live long on my screen. Others just didn't prove as useful as I'd hoped.
The new search helper, which launched officially but very quietly in December 2000, is called the Google Toolbar. This one has not only proven to be well-behaved on my desktop and useful, it also offers some unexpected features that I've taken the time to explore and now appreciate. The Google Toolbar can be downloaded for free (http://toolbar.google.com) and adds a bundle of handy search functions to your browser-but only in Internet Explorer 5 or higher. (It doesn't work with Netscape or AOL.)
The Google Toolbar sits just under the IE toolbar at the top of my browser. There's a small search box to type in a word or phrase, and buttons to choose the kind of search. The following is what's available:
- GOOGLE SEARCH-Provides access to Google's search technology from any Web page
- SITE SEARCH-Searches only the pages of the site you're visiting
- SEARCH DIRECTORY-Allows you to search the Google Web Directory (based on the Open Directory Project) without leaving the current Web page
- SEARCH USENET-Allows you to search Google's Usenet archive without leaving the current Web page. By the way, Google has now integrated the full Usenet archive back to 1995 with current postings.
- WORD FIND-Let's you find your search terms wherever they appear on a page
- HIGHLIGHT-Highlights your search terms as they appear on a page, each word in its own color
- PAGE RANK-Lets you see Google's ranking of the current page
- PAGE INFO-Enables you to access more information about a page, including similar pages, pages that link back to that page, and a cached snapshot
There's also an "I'm Feeling Lucky" search button that will take you to the first page Google finds for your query without seeing the results page. Not surprisingly, I found that sometimes this worked just great and saved a lot of time, and a few times this took me to some pretty strange destinations.
The one feature I've found most useful is the Site Search. It's very fast in providing results and often delivers better search results than using a site's own search capabilities. And, for sites that don't provide a search function, it's especially nice to have. I also liked the ability to highlight text on a page, right-click my mouse, and select "Google Search" from the pop-up menu.
Tools that actually save me time and provide decent results will have a place on my desktop. I can hide the Toolbar or just ignore it, but it's there if I need it. Give the Google Toolbar a try on your desktop.