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Life without Google: A fate worse than death?

Google has become a household name, but is it really the be-all and end-all of search engines? What's wrong with its rivals?

Google, during its inexorable rise to Internet stardom, has become a byword for 'search engine'. Nowadays people don't search the Web for information, they 'google' it. But in our haste to obtain information from the veritable fountain of knowledge that is the Internet, is it wise to forget that other search engines exist? Are Yahoo, Ask, Windows Live and AOL still relevant? Could we possibly live life without Google?

In order to answer this question, we've committed a heinous act: we've wrenched ourselves away from Google and sullied our browsers with rival search engines. Due to time constraints, and an ever-increasing feeling of nausea at being away from familiar ground, we've restricted our experiment to include just Windows Live Search, Yahoo, AOL and Ask, and examined each engine or portal's general quality of search, multimedia and peripheral features or functions.

Search accuracy
Our first category is a difficult one to call. Google's renowned for delivering accurate, relevant searches, but it would be churlish to dismiss other search engines. We tried a range of searches on Yahoo, Ask and Windows Live and each delivered excellent results. We haven't seen much to force us away from Google, but if everyone's favourite search engine vanished in thin air there are plenty of capable engines to take its place. No score draw.

Google 0-0 Rivals

On-site information
Trawling through the likes of AOL and Yahoo reveals a wealth of on-site information not accessible via Google. Whereas the world's favourite search engine requires users to search and surf to external Web sites, portals provide one-click access to news, sport, weather and dictionaries. Similar information is available through Google Directory, but it's not very well presented or easy to find. Rivals go one point up.

Google 0-1 Rivals

Image search
If there's one thing Google's good at, it's searching for images -- it can't possibly lose this round, right? Wrong. We spent time checking out Windows Live Search and have to concede it has a lot going for it. Image thumbnails are loaded in a frame in the lower half of the browser window and a quick mouse-over temporarily gives you a larger thumbnail -- you don't even have to click it. A slider bar lets you adjust the size of all thumbnails on the page, and it's possible to click and drag images to a 'scratchpad' -- a place to temporarily store a collection of images you've found during your time on the site for later use. Google loses once again.

Google 0-2 Rivals

Additional Features
This is a difficult one to call. Many search engines have extra gubbins such as video and audio searches, but we reckon Google has the edge. There's no denying excellent features like Google Maps, Google Desktop and Froogle are becoming ever-more crucial in day-to-day Web usage. We also love the new Google Co-op feature, which, among other things, lets you create your own customised search engine. It's perfect if your favourite Web site has a sub-par search engine -- just make your own Google-powered search to get the results you need. Google pegs one back.

Google 1-2 Rivals

Ease of use
Google's minimalist design belies the complexity beneath. It's easy to believe this is a key driver of its success -- there's little to draw users' eyes away from the all-important search box and no possibility of confusion about what the 'Google Search' button does. Portals such as Yahoo have the disadvantage of having to present a great deal of information in a relatively small space but we're huge fans of the simple approach. Google gets this one. 

Final Score: Google 2-2 Rivals

We've pitted Google against an entire gang of its rivals, and the fact it hasn't lost miserably is impressive. We think a draw is a fair result -- Google is a fantastic search engine but there are alternatives that are superior in some important areas. Windows Live in particular shows a lot of promise, and it would only take a few well-placed additions for it to display obvious superiority. Until that day we'll probably just keep using Google -- changing our bookmarks is way too much hassle.

Let us know your thoughts and what search engine you're using by posting a comment below. -RR