Want CNET to notify you of price drops and the latest stories?
No, thank you

# The many ways to access Wolfram Alpha

Latest Wolfram Alpha blog shows you several "cool" ways to access the site, from toolbar buttons to dashboard widgets. Follow me as I take them for a spin.

Say what you will about Wolfram Alpha, the creators are hard at work trying to drum up interest in the site.

On Tuesday, the WA crew launched a number of updates to its service, some of which I tested. Now the team's Thursday blog points you to the many "cool tools" you can use to access the site--buttons, widgets, gadgets, and more. You can grab them from the Wolfram Alpha download page, where you'll find the tools organized by operating system and browser. I took them all for a spin to see how they fared.

Toolbars
Wolfram Alpha toolbars are available for Firefox 2 and 3 and Internet Explorer 6 or higher. I installed separate toolbars on both Firefox 3 and IE 8. After setup, the toolbar popped up displaying a text field where I could type my search term directly.

Since Wolfram Alpha's forte is mathematical questions, I asked the question: "What is the value of pi?" (I'm sure we all remember from high school that pi is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter.) As expected, the traditional WA search told me it was 3.14 followed by more digits than I cared to count. So far, so good.

Then I experimented with the other toolbar buttons and learned that each one pointed me to different results on the same question. One button points to a page called the Wolfram Demonstration project to illustrate mathematical concepts. Here I could see the value of pi in action by watching a 3D globe with changing dimensions. A button for the Mathematical Documentation center showed me links to complex equations involving pi. Buttons for Wolfram MathWorld and Wolfram Research linked to mathematical and scientific articles on pi. More than I'd ever want to know about pi, but I know it'd make my old algebra teacher smile.

Windows Deskband
The Deskband installed a Wolfram Alpha search tool on my Windows taskbar. Here the same options were available as with the browser toolbar but conveniently accessible from my desktop. Another handy tool.

I next tried the Windows Vista Desktop gadget, which plopped a Wolfram Alpha search field on my Vista sidebar. This came without links to the other sources that were accessible from the toolbar, so I didn't find it quite as useful.