Back in the mid-1990s, Yahoo and AltaVista ruled the roost when it came to Internet search. Then Google hit the scene in 1998 and changed everything. With its bare-bones interface and innovative approach to search, Google became an overnight success, adding clever new features, such as image queries, desktop search, and an automated news service, at a clip that's left the former search leaders playing catch-up. With the addition of the forthcoming My Search History, you'll soon have a means of saving your searches the way you can now on A9, AOL Search, and Ask Jeeves. Although Google lacks the multimedia search features of, say, Yahoo or AltaVista, the company promises to add these features very soon. However, none of the other search engines comes close to Google for local searches or detail-specific mapping. Finally, Google offers the most technical support within its help section. While this may seem a trivial feature, we suggest that understanding how to limit your search results to specific words found only on the title of a page can be a real time-saver.
Google's spare, simple user interface marked the beginning of the end for the "more is better" Web design of the late 1990s; indeed, Google's oft-imitated look and feel was so successful that it's hardly changed since its 1999 launch. Besides the colorful Google logo, the site's main page is mostly bare except for the search form, the buttons for search and I'm Feeling Lucky (which takes you straight to the page of the first most relevant result), and links labeled Web, Images, Groups, News, Froogle, and Local.
Google's main search results include boldface page names, short descriptions, URLs, cached pages (great for viewing older versions of frequently updated Web pages), and links to similar pages. Sponsored links are relegated to the right-hand column--a welcome distinction from all the other search engines in our roundup, which list sponsored results above and below the main search hits. While there are no elaborate boxed sections that aggregate top image, news, movie, and video links for your queries (as with AOL Search's Spotlights and Ask Jeeves's Smart Search), Google does pull up news results for search terms and will display a forecast for weather-specific queries. Image search remains a strong point for Google (indeed, it was one of the first search engines with thumbnail-based search results), and Google leads in its ability to filter images by size, color, file type, and domain. Groups searches comb through the increasingly archaic (and, sadly, spam-packed) Usenet newsgroups, while Froogle is a powerful, speedy shopping engine that indexes hundreds of online merchants. Google's exhaustive news searches lack images, although the main, automatically generated news portal includes plenty of photos. Google's Local searches are easily the best we've seen. You can find businesses near your street address (addresses that can be saved for later use) and produce maps on the fly (using Google's impressive click-and-drag mapping service, maps.google.com, which now includes satellite images), plus get reviews from online guides such as Gayot, Citysearch, DigitalCity, MobilTravelGuide and even driving directions. We missed multimedia-specific audio and video searches, although Google is beta-testing a new search option for video clips. Meanwhile, both Lycos and Yahoo best Google when it comes to people-specific searches.
Google's latest offering is Web Accelerator, a Windows download that supposedly speeds up surfing for broadband users by delivering cached versions of Web pages. The beta, which as of May 9 was no longer available on Google's site, raised the hackles of privacy advocates after reports that the app was serving cached copies of password-protected discussion sites, making it appear as if the user was signed in as another person. (SSL-protected pages on sites such as financial institutions aren't cached by the service, according to Google.) Industry watchers also wonder what kind of Web-surfing statistics are being collected by Web Accelerator. Google representatives told CNET News.com that it's fixing the page-caching bug and that the service won't be used to track the surfing habits of specific users.
Google boasts plenty of impressive extras, including one of our favorite toolbars and the industry's first desktop search, which finds files and e-mail on your hard drive in a flash. Google's support page offers descriptions of different categories of searches available on the site and detailed search examples, including individual search operators (such as Allintitle, which limits your search to words found only in the title, not in the body text). For this, we feel Google goes beyond the competition in terms of technical support.