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Tech View

Monday, December 27, 2004

When it comes to searches,
Google is still the one

There is probably no technology company around (except, perhaps, for Microsoft) that gets more newsprint than Google. The reason for this is that Google is one killer app. With the amount of data on the Internet expanding exponentially, we need an application that will help us find what we want -- and quickly.

That is what Google does. Simply by entering the word or phrase in the field you can cut down down your search in milliseconds. However, there are other approaches to using this technology that you might be surprised to learn about. I'd like to share a few of these with you. To find these tools go to www.google.com/options/index.html.

Google desktop search engine is still being tested but it seems to work just fine. It makes your computer searchable with the same simplicity and familiar interface as the regular Google Web search. Type in a search query and Google searches your data in Outlook, Outlook Express, AOL Instant Messenger, Internet Explorer, Word, Excel and even PowerPoint. If you're looking for a "missing" doc on your desktop this really helps.

Google Alert provides email updates of the latest relevant searches based on your choice of query or topic. These could include monitoring a breaking news story, watching your business competitor or getting the latest on a sporting event.

Google Language Tools can translate text from English to a number of other languages and vice versa. Type in the text you want translated and voila it works. No, it's not perfect. I typed the nearly untranslatable "schadenfreude" and it gave me "harming joy" which I suppose is as close as you're going to get without going to a dictionary. Sometimes article translations are clumsy but generally you can get the gist.

Google's Image Search pores through 880 million images on the web. To use it, select the "images" tab. Enter your query in the image search box, then click on the "Search" button. Click the resulting thumbnail to see a larger version of the image, as well as the web page on which the image is located. I found plenty of images of Roy Buchanan, an obscure blues guitarist I enjoy listening to.

Google Local which is also in testing, locates stores and services near you by searching billions of Web pages and cross-checking the results with Yellow Pages. It's helpful if you want to find a neighborhood resource. I did a search for "hula supplies" and instantly found the nearest store to my home.

Google Keyhole is a pay-for service that provides satellite imagery of just about anywhere on earth, from Maui to Monaco. This is very, very cool. Think magic carpet ride. Want to see your home via satellite? Type in your address and keyhole will locate it right down to a resolution of one foot. It works but you need a high-end video card. (They have a seven-day free trial offer -- but the least expensive price is $29.95/month.) Real estate people would find this of great interest.

Google Picasa is a highly rated digital photo organizing software that's gotten rave reviews from the trade press. There's a free version and a much richer pay-for version ($30). Picasa allows people to browse through their photos using thumbnails of each image. The thumbnail system eliminates the need to search for digital pictures using their original file names -- which makes sense. You can do all kinds of things with this such as editing photos (crop, reduce red eye, etc), print, share photos online and make slide shows linked to your own MP3 music files.

In our next column we'll look at more ways that Google can help you leverage the Web.

Kiman Wong, general manager of digital phone at Oceanic Time Warner Cable, is an engineer by training and a full-time computer geek by profession. Questions or comments should be addressed to kiman.wong@oceanic.com.

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