Search Engine Toolbar Round Up

By Wayne Kawamoto | Posted February 04, 2005

Whether you rely on Google, Yahoo!, MSN, or another search engine, most major search sites now offer toolbars that you can add to your browser in order to quickly search for keywords from any Web page that you happen to visit. And beyond keywords, the toolbars offer specific search options for stock quotes, movies, news and products. They also provide one-click access to e-mail; highlight search terms on pages so keywords are easy to find and block pop-up ads. Another plus, the price in all cases, free, is just right.

While search engine toolbars offer a definite convenience, they do come with a potential downside in that they track your site visits. The search toolbars from Google, Yahoo!, and MSN clearly state what they are tracking, but as with anything that's Web-related, buyer beware. Let's take a closer look at each of the major alternatives.

Google Toolbar
If you rely only on Google to perform Web searches, it's undoubtedly the toolbar you'll want to add to your browser. In addition to performing familiar Google-style searches, the GoogleToolbar comes with an effective pop-up ad blocker and a handy auto-fill feature that remembers personal information and conveniently enters it into Web forms.

The Google Toolbar is a fast download (under 500KB) that quickly and seamlessly installs in your browser. You can also customize the toolbar by adding and removing buttons and resizing the search text box. During installation, the software gives you the option of tracking or not tracking the sites that you are visiting and clearly states that this option is designed to show more information about a site.

As the name and lineage imply, the toolbar gives you convenient Google-style search capabilities to screen the Web as you would when using Google. You also gain one-click access to Froogle — Google's own shopping service — Google-based news, Usenet groups, dictionary references and stock quotes. The toolbar also presents ties to Google's Blogger service so you can highlight text on a Web page and send it to your blog post.

The Google toolbar comes with an ad blocker feature that prevents annoying pop-up ads from automatically appearing over, under or on the Web sites you visit. If you want to see an ad on an individual site, you can, and you also have the option of adding sites with pop-up ads to a personal whitelist in order to view them in the future.

The handy AutoFill feature enters your personal information into Web forms so you don't have to type it in each time — particularly helpful when shopping online. Simply enter your personal information and when AutoFill thinks you need to fill information into a form, it highlights the field and asks permission to enter the data.

The AutoFill not only handles names and addresses, it can also recall and enter credit card numbers. Fortunately, with such important information only a quick click away, the toolbar offers password protection to ensure a degree of privacy from the curious- or devious-minded.

A clever "up one level" button lets you move from a secondary page of a site and up towards the main home page. While this works on many sites, it often fails on others. A handy Page Info tool lets you cache a Web page to view it later. There's also a feature that translates Web sites into English.

Again, if you use Google to perform searches, there's no reason to go with any other toolbar.

MSN Toolbar
For now, MSN's Toolbar trails the offerings from Google and Yahoo!, but it's still a competent toolbar that offers extensive search capabilities as well as a pop-up ad blocker.

The MSN Toolbar setup program is a little over 600K, and the toolbar easily installs into Internet Explorer. Good customization tools let you add or delete buttons and resize the search text box as you wish. The toolbar lets you easily search the Web, a current site, White and Yellow pages, stocks, movies, and products. Plus there's a handy dictionary.

The program's first-rate highlighter shows you where search terms reside on Web pages and helps you navigate around the page. The toolbar also offers shortcut buttons to take you to various MSN services that include Hotmail, MSN Messenger and more. The pop-up ad blocker does its job but won't display blocked ads the way that the Google and Yahoo! toolbars do.

If you prefer MSN, you'll find that the toolbar is a worthy addition to Internet Explorer.

Yahoo! Toolbar
Definite competition for Google's toolbar, the Yahoo! Toolbar offers solid search capabilities, a pop-up ad blocker, an anti-spyware scanner and lots of customization options.

At 3MB (with the spyware option — under 400KB without it) the Yahoo! Toolbar is a larger download than the others, but it quickly and easily installs itself. The toolbar offers a wealth of customization features to reorder buttons and view icons or text, and recent versions make it possible to alter the size of the search text box.

Using the Yahoo! Toolbar, you can search the entire Web or limit searches to specific sites that you visit, as well as search specifically through Yellow Pages or for news, stock quotes, products, maps, movie show times (based on zip code) and more. As with the other toolbars, you simply select your option from a convenient drop-down menu.

The toolbar also offers single-button access to Yahoo! e-mail with options to compose e-mail and more. A highlighter indicates where search results appear on a page. Like the Google toolbar, the Yahoo! Toolbar features a competent pop-up ad blocker that lets you look at ads that it has already blocked and also allows you to create a whitelist of ads to display.

The Anti-Spy feature clearly sets the Yahoo! Toolbar apart from and ahead of the others. This feature scans your computer for questionable applications and reports a list of suspicious files. And another plus, there's a handy bookmark feature that maintains the bookmarks that you store in Internet Explorer.

On the downside, Yahoo! Toolbar lacks the handy automatic form fill-in features found in the Google and MSN toolbars. Despite this single shortcoming, Yahoo's Toolbar is, for now at least, the strongest of the three major toolbar offerings. If you already rely on Yahoo, it is clearly the toolbar of choice.

Bottom Line
Among the three major toolbars now available, the Google and Yahoo! toolbars reign supreme with Yahoo! Toolbar holding a slight edge. But despite the differences between the search toolbars, in the end, you'll probably end up choosing and using the one that's associated with your favorite search site. And you may find the extras like the pop-up ad blockers and anti-spyware features to be icing on the cake.

Overall, if you're using Internet Explorer 5+ or an IE-based browser like Maxthon or Avant Browser and have been considering a search toolbar, now is a great time to add one. We can only hope the same choices apply to alternative browsers like Mozilla Firefox and Opera in the near future.

Adapted from winplanet.com.

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