Cybernaut 

Get more out of Google

Google turned 10 last week, which goes to show that it’s still possible these days for a company to go from an indebted startup to a corporation with $160 billion in shareholder value in the average lifespan of a Saint Bernard. Entrepreneurialism is alive and well.

But while Google does everything under the sun these days — Google Earth, Google Docs, Picasa, Blogger, and more — the heart of the company will always be the Google search engine. Recently I shared a list of some search functions and tips I’ve learned over the years, like how to search by file type (search term plus filetype:pdf for pdf files, filetype:jpg for photos, etc.); how to limit your search to a select website (cybernaut site:www.piquenewsmagazine.com for recent Cybernaut articles); how to use the built-in calculator (use +, -, / and * in the search window) and dictionary (define:dictionary); and how to cull unwanted results by typing the minus sign beside a word (-movie if you’re looking up a book).

It seems that people who use Mozilla Firefox (which is almost 40 per cent of people these days) also have a few built-in options to improve their search experience.

The first step, according to a video on CNet (www.cnet.com) is to customize your Google experience. To do that, you have to download “Customize Google”, which is available at www.download.com, www.tucows, and, predictably, www.customizegoogle.com. This Firefox plug-in lets you get rid of text ads, include results from 10 other search engines, expand your Google News searches to other sites and generally do more with your results. For example, searches for movie titles will also include links to movie review sites, weather results will link to other weather sites, product results will link to other product results sites, etc. It will also add links to WayBackMachine (which is kind of like a historical archive for the web), allow Google to anticipate your search terms when typing, filter out websites and terms from your search results, and disable click tracking to let you search anonymously.

After you install Customize Google, you can access it in the Tools menu in Firefox, and click on the features you want to use.

Another useful plug-in is Google Preview, which includes thumbnail pictures of the web pages that go with your links. This can be useful by helping you get a sense of where you’re going before you get there, and whether the link might be useful. Given the amount of crap out there, and the amount of cybersquatting on what would appear to be legitimate URLs, sometimes it pays to get a preview.

Google Preview is available at the usual download sites, or by going under the Tools menu, clicking the Add-ons links and doing a quick search.

Another tool recommended by CNet, especially for PC users, is the McAfee Site Advisor. Basically this is a little bar on the bottom right corner of your browser that tells you whether a site is safe, risky, or downright dangerous, or whether it still needs be assessed. To prevent the spread of viruses, spyware, and other security flaws, McAfee usually has a pretty good idea where the problems originate, and it might be a good idea to install this software to add another layer of protection. It also verifies pop-up windows, and can verify links within sites, or links to other pages.

Best of all, there are no load times or stalls while it updates, it’s just there in the background while you’re surfing the web.

I also recently installed the Google Desktop feature that allows you to search your own computer, Google-style, or to download from a library of over 600 Google Gadgets that are to Apple Dashboard Widgets and Vista Gadgets.

Some of the gadgets are not as good as what I’m currently using — my Apple Unit Converter widget is a valuable tool that I would need about five different Google programs to replace — but some of the Google tools can be quite useful, like the one that lets you search Wikipedia, or one that tracks Olympic medals.

The highlight is the ability to search your own computer using a Google-style search engine (go to File in Google Desktop and select “Open Desktop Homepage”). I typed in Mars, the topic of a feature I recently wrote, and up jumped a bunch of hyperlinks I saved to Mars stories, e-mails I sent to the Canadian Space Agency, notes I kept on Google Docs, the rough and finished drafts of the story, and all the photos that I downloaded from NASA and the CSA.

Google Desktop is in Beta but is easy to install. Go to Google (www.google.ca), click on the “More” tab and look for “Pack: A free collection of essential software”. That will allow you to download the Google Desktop client, and any of the Google Gadgets you want to pop up when you open the program. You can also download the Desktop program at http://desktop.google.com.

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