The AltaVista Toolbar isn't exactly an overachiever, but it's not a total washout, either. Armed with a full set of specific-search options for news, images, video, and MP3/audio, along with a serviceable pop-up blocker, this IE plug-in is unfortunately also saddled with some clunky features, and it lacks any extras to set it apart from the competition. You could do worse, but why not do better? Try Yahoo Toolbar instead.
Installing the AltaVista Toolbar was a snap; once we accepted the licensing agreement, the toolbar (a less than 1MB download) installed itself in about a minute. Customization options are fair, if a little basic. You can add individual buttons for all of the toolbar's various searches (Web, images, news, and current site--a nice touch if, say, you're doing a lot of image searches) and set the buttons to icons and text or icons only. Unlike other search toolbars, you can't change the size of the smallish search box.
AltaVista's toolbar offers options to search for video and audio through AltaVista's dedicated audio and video searches, rather than just tacking "video of" or "audio of" onto a search term. That said, many other searches did require the tack-on-the-word approach, including the weather, conversion, currency, zip code, and area code searches. A Highlighter button highlights search terms on a given page, while a Last Search button, as you'd expect, reruns your last search.
The AltaVista Toolbar is light on extras. Its pop-up toolbar does the job, but you can only turn it on or off; you can't allow pop-ups for a given domain or see recently blocked pop-ups. We like the feature that translates Web pages or phrases into different languages. Unfortunately, you can't copy the built-in calculator's pop-up results onto the Windows clipboard. Missing from our toolbar wish list are features such as form autofill, the ability to cycle through search results using toolbar buttons, and bookmarks accessible via the Web from any PC.
AltaVista scored well in our search result tests; it was our first runner-up in terms of breadth, right behind Yahoo, and it won third place in the relevance competition, behind Google and tied with competitors A9 and HotBot. For news on the flu vaccine shortage, AltaVista ranked number one.