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At the start of November, Google Labs came up with an interesting search feature - the Google Deskbar. We’ve been trying it out.

The Deskbar is just that - it sits at the bottom of your Windows screen, a little box to type in whatever comes to mind and then use Google's search engine to throw up whatever information is out there on the Net.

The good thing, and what separates it from the widely used Toolbar, is that it means you can search Google while in whatever app you are running. You don’t need a browser open, just an Internet connection.

Either hit Ctrl-Alt-G or click in the box, type in the word(s), hit return, and a smaller version of Google pops up on the right-hand side of the screen displaying results. You can click on any of the links to go through to the actual page or click on a small box in the top left to open a full-screen browser of what you see. Click off the mini-browser and it slides back down to the taskbar.

On top of this you can search within each of Google's functions by hitting "Ctrl-[X]" rather than return, where X is N for news; I for images; D for dictionary definition; G for groups; F for the Froogle shops search; and L for Lucky - i.e. take you immediately to the top search result.

This is all very nice, but is it actually useful or just another bit of downloaded software that you never get around to using?

Well, rather depressingly, Google seems to have hit the nail on the head again. We’ve been using it for a little over two weeks and it is rapidly becoming the main way information is accessed off the Net.

The tough bit is training yourself out of opening your browser and searching Google the usual way. While pure habit means you can do this extremely fast, soon it becomes clear that it’s faster to use the Deskbar, especially if you want to look within the other sections like news or images. It's actually annoying when you realise you've wasted time going the old route.

You also find yourself using sections you don't normally use. For example, the fact that you have to type "definition:" into Google to get a definition usually means you never use Google for this type of job. However, if all you need to do is hit Ctrl-D, there can’t actually be a faster way of finding out what exactly a word means.

Never used Froogle before, preferring to go directly to Amazon for most things. But what with Xmas looming, it seems a little long-winded to go to Amazon and then do a search when one search yields plenty of possibilities, sometimes for a cheaper price (Amazon does appear to come strangely low down in the search results though).

As you start using the Deskbar more and more, you find that your browser - usually permanently open on the desktop - is making less and less of an appearance. In fact, it is so painfully simple to search for stuff that you wonder why this didn't exist before.

But Google Deskbar is in beta, so what are the bugs? Well, it's not a bug but the most annoying for most people appears to be that there is no support for Linux or Macs at the moment. Google is keeping tight-lipped about what its plans, if any, are for this.

It takes up a slightly annoying amount of space in the taskbar, but then it can't really be any smaller and still be functional. And we’ve found we’ve actually reorganised the taskbar to give it more room (do you really need to see your firewall icon all the time? It’s easy to get to ICQ if you want etc. etc.).

German umlauts appear to be a problem in some cases. If you click on a Flash movie within the mini-window it can continue running even if the browser closes. Some people have had install troubles although it looks as though it is the usual firewall/proxy server hassles that you have with anything connected to the Internet. For us, the 413KB file zapped down, opened and everything ran smoothly within a couple of minutes.

So, basically, in summary, Google has done it again. It has come up with another new, interesting, simple and useful innovation and made its competitors look lazy and sloppy. The Deskbar has the added advantage (for Google) that you end up using Google’s search functions more than you even did previously. And you start using its latest features. So long as Google continues to offer the best search function on the Net for free, everyone’s a winner.

How long do you reckon it'll be before computer manufacturers start including a Google button? ®

Related links
All about the Deskbar with download link
Deskbar newsgroup

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