If you already frequent Google.com to look up stuff on the Web, why not fill the vast white space on that page with news you read and online tools you need? Google Home, a personal Web page service, can wrap together all sorts of content so that you don't have to type long URLs and visit multiple Web sites.
To get started, just set up a Google account or grab your handle and password if you already have one, then click the Personalized Home link atop Google.com. Or, you can visit google.com/ig. The searchable "Add more to this page" link hooks you up with content arranged by topic, such as Finance or Fun & Games, and a display of popular Gadgets. Click Add It Now to grab what you like, and that selection then appears as a new box, or module, on Google Home. We found this setup more intuitive than even that of the no-brainer rival My Yahoo. When looking up new modules for the home page, just make sure to pick the "Add more to this page" link first, and not the general search field for the Internet.
The minimal, clean layout of Google Home mimics the company's other services. While we prefer the tighter interface of Netvibes, that experience was marred by frequently broken feeds. Among the home pages we tested, Google Home and My Yahoo loaded the most quickly, while Windows Live.com suffered the longest delays.
The tabbed layout is convenient for organizing your subjects into topics or tasks. For example, you can set up a Travel tab and add modules containing news from abroad as well as Google Maps, a currency converter, and phrase translator. If you added an ESPN module to your Business News tab, just drag that module up to your Sports tab. You can hide modules one by one; Netvibes lets you collapse them all at once. Google color-codes each tab and lets you rename it right away, but we wanted to add more than six, as we could with the unlimited number within Netvibes.
You can add Gadgets in fewer steps than with the widgets for Netvibes. Just click Add It Now, and Google Home displays a check mark. Google's Gadgets include a world clock, lunar phase, eBay auctions, religious verses, to-do lists, stock quotes, space photos from NASA, yellow pages, Del.icio.us links, and maps. Open coding allows users to add their own widgets, so the library will continue to evolve. At this point, Google Gadgets are more plentiful than similar widgets within the Windows Live Gallery. And Yahoo's widgets cannot be added to My Yahoo.
Modules of Google tools include Gmail, Calendar, Maps, Chat, Reader, News, and search history. You can even add a module with feeds of specific Google searches to get the latest news from around the Web about the Mets, orchids, or whatever else you're into. You can customize modules further, such as creating a feed for a topic as you would with Google Alerts. Among the competition, Google Home also has the most games: Pac-Man, Hangman, Tetris, and Sudoku, to name a few. We created a Silly tab for that stuff. But remember that once you leave the tab or page, you'll lose the work up to that point; our half-full crossword puzzle went blank when we skipped to another tab.
Keep in mind that if you're logged in and you use Google to research a sensitive subject, such as breast cancer, you'd be wise to sign out first. Otherwise, Google will remember your activities and tailor its search results accordingly--which might rank search results related to your previous lookups high on the page.
Google's well-organized, searchable help resources are better than those for most other home pages, although we couldn't find a user forum to add to the mix. To contact peers, you'll have to look for posts within the general Google forum.
To keep up-to-date with the latest headlines and to access widgets, we'd rather use Google Home than the intrusive Google Desktop 4. We like Google Home's balance of powerful features and clean design. If you already use Google's other services, this one can put many of them onto one convenient page.