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Operating Systems

Put the information you need on your home page

iGoogle, Pageflakes, Netvibes, Symbaloo, and Delicious take five different approaches to building a custom home page.

Last week, my iGoogle home page suddenly got a new look via the addition of a pane on the left side containing shortcuts to my widgets. I didn't ask for the new arrangement, and I can't find a way to make the new left pane disappear.

What's worse, when I now click my Gmail in-box, I get an abbreviated version of the application, minus a search box and other useful features. To see the whole enchilada, I have to click the Launch Full Gmail link in the top-right corner of the window. Huh?

The upshot is that the change motivated me to check out my home page alternatives. For the last couple of years, I have used Netvibes as the home page on one of my browsers and iGoogle on the rest. (I rotate between five or six different browsers, just so I don't fall into a rut.) I also took a look at Pageflakes, Symbaloo, and the Delicious social-bookmarking site.

While each of the services offers something unique to Web denizens, I ultimately returned to iGoogle--even with the funky left pane and dumbed-down Gmail module. The difference makers were the ability to see my Google Calendar, (crippled) Gmail in-box, Google Reader feeds, and Google Docs files all in the same window. iGoogle was the only service that manages this trick.

Here's a quick look at the Pageflakes and Netvibes custom-home page services. Tomorrow, I'll cover the beta test version of the new Symbaloo service, Delicious, and the new-look iGoogle.

Pageflakes gets you custom info in a flash
If you don't want to mess around with registration, Pageflakes will serve up information to order in just a few seconds. Just click the big link at the top of the page to open a menu listing about a dozen categories, including news, sports, tech, movies, and gossip.

Pageflakes information categories
Choose the categories of information you want to see on your Pageflakes page. Pageflakes

You can add "flakes" of all descriptions to your home page, or create several themed pages that you can jump between by clicking their tabs. If you register with the site, you're prompted to allow the service to search your Web mail contacts to connect with friends and colleagues who also have Pageflakes accounts. I passed on this social aspect of the site.

While I was able to place widgets showing my Gmail in-box and Google Calendar, I struck out trying to do so for Google Docs and Google Reader. Still, you'll find "flakes" of every description at this service. It may not sound like it, but that's a good thing.

Netvibes has the interface edge
In terms of content and features, there really isn't much of a difference between Pageflakes and Netvibes. Two things give Netvibes the edge: a better-looking interface and the lack of "sponsored" widgets.

Netvibes custom home page
Netvibes' themes give your custom home page a polished look. Netvibes

You can customize the look and layout of both services, but the Netvibes themes appealed to me more than those available for Pageflakes. (Neither service offers the number and quality of interface options you get with iGoogle, however.) And while you can move Pageflake's ad widget to the bottom of your customized window, you can't delete it entirely.

Tomorrow: a look at Symbaloo, Delicious, and iGoogle.