First Look: Google--The Toolbar You'll Keep

Lately it seems as if everybody and their second cousin has attempted to follow Google's example by cobbling together a browser toolbar. Most of these shortcut collections do little more than push the page content farther below the virtual fold and replace it with a string of ads to the company's sites and services (the Yahoo Toolbar is a prime example of this approach). But it's clear to me, based on a few days of using the beta of Google Toolbar 4, that the first is still the best.

Topping the list of version 4's new features is type-ahead help in the search text box. In typical Google fashion, the search-term helper is simple, elegant, and useful: As you enter text, a small window pops open below the box, listing popular search terms beginning with those letters. The toolbar remembers past searches, too, and lists them here when appropriate.

Significant Search Suggestions

Google Toolbar 4 gives you search-term suggestions.
Google Toolbar 4 gives you search-term suggestions.
Previously, I never felt the need for help when conjuring my search phrases; but several times while testing the new toolbar I chose one of Google's suggestions over what I had intended to type, and was happy with the result. You may download the new version of the toolbar here.

For example, while looking for recent articles on antispam software, I intended to search for 'spam filters' but saw the more-appropriate term 'spam blockers' among the search helper's suggestions. I chose it from the list and found the article I needed among the first three results. Evidently even old searchers can learn a few new tricks.

Google's new version of its toolbar gives you options on search settings.
Google's new version of its toolbar gives you options on search settings.
Then again, you might find the suggestions intrusive, or you might not like having your search history recorded. You can disable both of these options via the toolbar's Search Box Settings: Click Settings, Options, Features, Search Box Settings, and uncheck the bottom two options.

Google Hosts Bookmarks

The buttons that appear by default are those for Google services; Google bookmarks (more on these below); the pop-up blocker; the spell checker; the language translator (which is grayed out until you choose a language via the Settings dialog box); AutoLink (which converts URLs and physical addresses on the page into clickable links, the former leading to Google Maps); AutoFill, for entering forms data automatically; Send To, for transmitting pages via e-mail, blog, or SMS (more on this below as well); and Highlight, to call out each instance of your search term on the page.

If you're dissatisfied with the array of shortcut buttons on the toolbar, you can add or remove them individually via the Toolbar Options dialog box (click Settings, Options, Buttons). You can even use the Google API to create your own shortcut buttons for favorite sites; the company offers instructions.

The new Google section of the toolbar makes it easy to bookmark Google-based sites.
The new Google section of the toolbar makes it easy to bookmark Google-based sites.
Or keep things simple by adding buttons for, The New York Times, CBS, and other popular sites with one click via the Google Toolbar Button Gallery. You'll find that it's easier than ever to add and remove shortcuts to Google Video, Gmail, and other Google sites and services: Just choose them from the new menu that pops out of the toolbar's Google section.

Bookmark Portability

Several services let you store your browser bookmarks on their servers so you can access them from any computer. Google Toolbar 4 offers this same bookmark portability (a Gmail or other Google account is required). Unfortunately, you have to enter your bookmarks one at a time, but adding them to the toolbar's list lets you assign keywords to them to make them easier to sort and organize. Your bookmarks will also be available via the Search History link on your Google account page.

Anyone who frequently sends Web pages to others via e-mail or SMS will appreciate the toolbar's new Send To feature. Gmail is currently the only e-mail option, and Google's Blogger is the only choice included for posting a link to the current page in a blog, but you can send the page via SMS to any messaging-enabled cell phone. Be aware, however, that--though you can send SMS messages for free via the toolbar--your carrier may charge you to receive them.

Translation Capability Still There

The WordTranslator function in the Google Toolbar isn't new, but it's still very useful.
The WordTranslator function in the Google Toolbar isn't new, but it's still very useful.
One toolbar feature that isn't new with this release but that I have come to appreciate only recently is the WordTranslator. When this button is active, you'll see a translation of the words you hover the mouse pointer over in the language of your choice. The languages currently supported are Chinese, Japanese, Korean, French, Itallian, German, and Spanish.

As a language aficionado, I get a big kick out of seeing the word translations pop up in a little yellow box whenever the pointer stops over text. It's not Berlitz, but ce n'est pas mal.

Google Toolbar 4

Beta product, not rated
The type-ahead search helper, easy-to-add shortcuts to popular sites, and other useful innovations keep Google the toolbar of choice for Internet Explorer users.
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