BOOT CAMP ARCHIVE 2005

  

 

BOOT CAMP 381 (14/06/05)

Google Tips and Tweaks

 

It’s hard to imagine how we ever managed to navigate the vast tracts of the Internet before Google. In a little over five years it has become the world’s most popular and powerful search engine, and it’s not hard to see the reasons why.

 

Google works and despite the staggering number of ‘hits’ generated by most enquiries, if you’ve chosen your search keywords carefully the chances are you’ll find what you are looking for on the first page or two of results. It is fast, uncluttered and very easy to use and even though there are advertisements displayed on every page they are unobtrusive and sometimes even quite helpful.

 

However, one of Google’s greatest strengths is that it is constantly evolving; new features are being added all of the time, keeping it fresh and several steps ahead of the competition. This week we’ll look at several recent innovations, some existing facilities that you may have missed and how you can help to make it even better.

 

You can unleash the power of Google on your own PC with Desktop Search, (http://desktop.google.com)/. It’s a clever new tool that rapidly locates messages, documents, spreadsheets, images, music, video and web pages stored on your computer. Installation takes only a few moments after which it automatically indexes all of the files on your PC. This can take several hours as it works in the background, whilst the PC is idle so you can continue to work normally. Once it has finished enter a keyword or two into the Search box that appears on the Windows taskbar and a browser windows opens displaying a Google-style web page (without the ads), listing the results. Click on the link and the contents of the file is displayed or opened in the program it is associated with.

 

 

Gmail is Google’s free webmail service that provides users with over 2 gigabytes of message storage space. Messages can be sent and received on any PC with an Internet connection and it is compatible with POP3 email clients like Outlook Express. Needless to say there’s a catch and Gmail looks for keywords in messages and displays what it considers to be relevant advertisements. It’s not really suitable as a main account, or if you have any privacy concerns but it’s ideal as a second string or backup account and an excellent way to stay in touch when you are away from home or the office. Gmail is coming to the end of its beta testing phase and at the moment the only way to get an account is to be invited to sign up by an existing user. The full public service is expected to begin soon, so it’s worth keeping an eye on the Gmail info page for the latest news (http://gmail.google.com/gmail/help/about.html).

 

  

Google Homepage (www.google.com/ig) lets you customise the Google search page to include such things as your Gmail Inbox, stock market prices, the latest news and weather, a quote and word of the day, movie information and a very useful feature called Driving Directions. This is a tie-in with another facility called Google Maps (see below); just type in a journey’s start point and destination, an address or postcode and it displays a detailed route map and comprehensive directions.

 

Google Maps is well worth getting to know in its own right. Go to http://maps.google.com/ and the page opens with a map of the UK. Enter an address, postcode or company name into the Search box and the map zooms in on the local area with the option to use it as the start point, or destination. A new feature, still being tested, links maps with satellite images. Unfortunately there’s not much to see for the UK but you can zoom in on large tracts of the United States and there’s hours of fun to be had looking down on major landmarks and cities.

 

Google Web Accelerator (http://webaccelerator.google.com/) promises to dramatically speed up the loading of web pages. Before you get too excited it’s designed for broadband users so those with a dial-up connection probably won’t see any improvements. It works by directing web searches through dedicated server computers that stores copies of frequently accessed pages and these are automatically updated when the content changes. Selected pages are ‘prefetched’ and stored locally on your PC, it also optimises your Internet connection and compresses data, further helping to reduce download times.  Like Gmail it is still being tested and the program is currently closed to new users but if the trials are successful it could have a significant impact on the speed of web searches.

 

Google features are thoroughly tested before they’re unleashed on the public but it encourages users to participate in pre-release trials and the developers welcome feedback and bug reports. Obviously there’s a modicum of risk and you try these features entirely at your own risk but if you would like to become a guinea pig for new features pay a visit to Google Labs at: http://labs.google.com/, where you will find details of the latest technologies on offer.

 

Next Week -- ebay Top Tips

 

JARGON FILTER

 

BETA

Pre-release version of a program or application, made available to testers and volunteers to help identify any last remaining bugs

 

POP3

Post Office Protocol, system used to retrieve email messages from a mail server computer

 

WEBMAIL

Email messages sent to and from web sites, bypassing the need for special email client software

 

 

TIP OF THE WEEK

Here are a couple more handy Google features that you might not have tried yet. If you are looking for a photo, graphic or some clipart your first stop should be Google Images, click the link on the Google homepage and enter your keywords. If you are in the market for any consumer product, from a washing machine to a left-handed can opener see what Froogle can find for you. Just click the Froogle link on the Google search page, tell it what you are looking for and you’ll be spoilt for choice.

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