I do so many searches that I don't want to waste my time going to a URL every time I search. So I just enter my searches directly into the Google Toolbar and save dozens of clicks a day.
Nearly everyone I know uses Google.com as their default search engine -– but most of them either don't know about, or don't bother downloading, the Google Toolbar. Try it. You'll never look back.
The toolbar is a quick download (from http://toolbar.google.com/) that installs a text entry field and a row of buttons just under the URL field at the top of your browser. (Two unfortunate caveats: There are no versions yet for Netscape or Mac users.)
No matter where you are on the Web, all you have to do is type your search term into the text entry field and either press "Enter" or click the "Search" button -– and up pop your results.
In addition to basic searching, you can add buttons to your toolbar for quick access to all the searches you use regularly: Google Groups or Google Images, for example. Or you can add the Combined Search Button, which gives you one click access to all of the searches, from Google News to the U.S. government search.
If that's not handy enough for you, the toolbar also includes a slew of other useful features, and you can customize your toolbar to include whichever ones you prefer.
Among my favorites:
Site Search: You can add a button to the toolbar that will search the entire domain of the Web page your browser is on for whatever terms you enter. I find this particularly handy for sites that don't have their own search feature (and for those that do, I often find the Google search more effective.)
Page Info: Quick access to similar pages, pages that link back to that page, and Google's cached snapshot of the page.
Highlight: The "Highlight" button automatically colors all of your search terms on the Web page, so you can easily find the words you searched for (each word is a different color).
Word Find: Words you searched for appear at the right of the tool bar. Click on them and the page scrolls right to them, saving you the tedious trouble of using the browser's find feature and retyping the words.
Next and Previous: These buttons allow you to navigate quickly among the results from your last search. For example, you might perform a search and click the first result link and surf around for a while, then click the "Next" button to see the second result.
And yes, you can add the "I'm Feeling Lucky" button to the toolbar. Don't you feel lucky now?
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Coming Tuesday: Sree Sreenivasan
Coming next Friday: Jon Dube