AltaVista, a former search-engine powerhouse that's been relegated to the sidelines since the emergence of Google, uses a pared-down interface to deliver solid (though basic) search features and performance, especially when it comes to its robust multimedia searches and Web-page language translations. That said, Yahoo--which now owns AltaVista and its parent, Overture--offers similar search features and dozens more. If you're wondering why you should bother with AltaVista, well, frankly, so are we.
AltaVista followed Google's lead and squeezed its old, link-heavy main page into a minimalist yet easy-to-use interface. Gone are the bright yellow colors and dozens of links and features on its home page; now there's only a big blue search box with tabs for Web, Images, MP3/Audio, Video, Directory, and News. Click a tab, and various options appear below the search box, allowing you to narrow your search. For example, under Images, three drop-down menus allow you to filter results by color, source, and size. Searches under MP3/Audio can be filtered by file type (for example, MP3, WAV, WMA) and duration (less or more than a minute). For a graphic artist, this can be very helpful.
AltaVista's search results are par for the course, supplying page names, snippets of text, and a link to pages with similar results. A link to a list of related searches sits on the upper-right corner of the search results page. Image searches come with thumbnails, dimensions, and file size, while audio searches tell you the file type and duration. Video searches through AltaVista return thumbnails--a nice touch, although you'll find the same functionality on Yahoo. News results can be sorted by date and relevance, with language translation links for each hit. Unfortunately, none of the searches lets you call up a cached page, a handy option for finding your results on a frequently updated Web page. We also wish AltaVista did a better job of separating its subtly marked sponsored search results from more neutral findings. While AltaVista does a fine job with straight-ahead searching, it's light on extra features. The downloadable AltaVista toolbar lets you search and translate pages through the Internet Explorer interface. Unfortunately, it won't let you sign in and save your search history. Also, AltaVista lacks local search, mapping, people finder, Yellow Pages, and desktop-indexing features. Its support section doesn't provide detailed search examples, but does include a cursory description of several different categories of available search.