четверг, 19 июня 2008 г.

Here Come the Browsers

Safari, the browser supplied by Apple, includes a search box in the upper right corner that sends search queries to Google (see Figure 3 on page 201.

Unfortunately, Apple decided to hard-code Google as the search engine. But you can change the default to Yahoo! or any other search engine with some work. You do have to make changes to the Safari application using an editor. [For full details, see http://www.macosxhints.com/article.php?story=20030514035516436.]An easier alternative is to use an Applescript named Safari2Yahoo!, which changes it for you (available from MacUpdate.com or Version Tracker.com). This option limits you to Yahoo! since the script doesn't have any other options, although those familiar with Applescript could make the changes to the script itself.

An even better alternative, and the one that I have used, is SafariKeywords, a system preference pane that allows you to define shortcuts. This allows you to tell the search box to which search engine to send requests. SafariKeywords can be found at http://safarikeywords.sourceforge.net/.It comes with 28 pre-defined sites, including Yahoo!, Ask.com, Teoma, and Vivisimo, and allows you to add your own favorite search sites. I personally use SafariKeywords on a regular basis when searching within Safari, for example, to search the Internet Movie Database for movies with Meryl Streep (see Figure 4 at left).

It is relatively simple to add shortcuts to reach your favorite search site. Simply click on the "Add" button within the SafariKeywords preference pane (in the System Preferences) and then double-click on "new" to change its name (this will be the shortcut you type into the search box). Then go to your favorite search site and do a search. I usually do a search for "test" and copy the resulting URL, then double-click on the URL within the SafariKeywords pane, and paste in the URL. You will have to replace the word "test" with %'s in the URL. Now, any time you type in your keyword in the Safari search box, it will send the query following your keyword to the Web site you defined (see Figure 5 at left).

I recently replaced SafariKeywords with AcidSearch [http//www.pozytron.com/acidsearch] (see Figure 6 on page 22). It too modifies the search box within Safari, but it allow you to choose your search engine from a pop-up list, rather than having to remember keywords. Google is the default, but you can change this to any search engine on the list. It also allows you to organize sites into folders you set up. You can delete or modify any site selection to your own preference.

AcidSearch also allows you to create keyboard shortcuts to reach a search engine or site without having to click on the menu. I generally stay away from defining shortcuts, fearing potential conflicts, but these seem to work quite well in my limited testing.

The only feature I find lacking in AcidSearch is visual feedback as to which site is currently being selected. Clicking outside the search box will show the search engine unless there is text in the search box. It would help if the icon for the site were displayed in place of the magnifying glass icon. This would allow you to identify the current site at a glance.

Overall, I really like AcidSearch and have switched to it full time now. It is still relatively new, but quite robust for a 0.3 version. I like that I don't have to remember keywords and that I can add whatever search sites I want, organizing the sites in the way I think and work.

Firefox, an open source browser from Mozilla [http://www.mozilla.org/products/firefox/]is another attractive option. For heavy-duty searching, I prefer Firefox to Safari because of all the toolbars available, e.g., Firefox toolbar (by Ultra), an unofficial Googlebar (including Pagerank), as well as an unofficial Yahoo! bar. Firefox has many other useful extensions to help with searching.

Figure 7 on page 22 shows how I have Firefox set up.

The top toolbar is the Firefox Toolbar by Ultra shown with Ask Jeeves as the search engine. This toolbar, with all its options, is one of my favorites. The middle toolbar is the PRGoogleBar, offering most of Google's normal functionality as well as Pagerank. Below that appears the Yahoo! toolbar, which, besides searching, allows you to access other Yahoo! offerings, such as My Yahoo!. With all these bars, you can save some screen real estate by just showing icons. If you forget what a given icon means, just move the mouse over the icon and a small pop-up appears telling you the icon name.

The unofficial Google and Yahoo! bars work like the real thing. All the functionality is supposed to be the same. (I couldn't verify that since the official toolbars only work under Internet Explorer on Windows.) The Googlebar can quickly search various areas of Google, such as Images, Groups, Directory, and News. It also offers quick access to the special searches such as Catalog Search, Froogle shopping, Uncle Sam, as well as the BSD, Linux, Mac, and Microsoft searches. You can also use normal Google syntax within the search box, such as limiting the search to a given filetype by using filetype:xxx.

The Yahoo! toolbar offers searching of Yahoo! as well as access to other Yahoo! services such as mail and groups. You can use any of the syntax that you would use on the Yahoo! search page as well as all the Yahoo! shortcuts. The toolbar also gives quick access to the most-viewed articles on Yahoo! and maps, reference area, and yellow pages.

The one toolbar I couldn't do without is Firefox Toolbar by Ultra available from http://www.firefoxtoolbar.com/.It comes with 19 different search engines (including both Yahoo! and Google) and the ability to add your own. You can also alter the order in which the search engines appear so that your favorites appear at the top. You can add dividers to help you organize items. It would help if it would allow you to create folders -- such as major search engines, meta-search engines, and specialized search engines -- to better organize lists of favorite search sites.

I rank the ability to customize whatever toolbar I'm using as one of the top features. This is why Firefox Toolbar and AcidSearch are tools I use frequently. I can add whatever search engines I like or find most useful, add new sites as I find them, and delete ones I no longer use.

There are two other toolbars worth mentioning that I don't use often.

The Eureskter toolbar (see Figure 8 at left) is based on the concept of social networking. It works on the premise that one can improve search results by viewing what others with interests similar to yours have searched for. It gives personalized results based not on who you are but who you know. Since I'm not into the use of the Internet for social networking, I haven't found the Eureskter toolbar that useful. It also does not serve up its own results; the results displayed come from Yahoo!-owned AlltheWeb. Others, especially younger folks, may find it helpful. Eureskter should prove especially useful in instances when a group of folks do similar searches. If they all list each other as friends, then the results would theoretically get better as they each search for similar terms. Note that once you've performed a search and gone to a page from the results, you have to stay on that page for I minute for Eureskter to assume you like the site and for it to show up in future searches. Otherwise, it assumes you did not find the site useful and will ignore it.

This social networking concept has its disadvantages. Not all your "friends" share similar interests and this could potentially skew results. Also, as your friends invite other friends to join, the focus will tend to become diluted.

StumbleUpon is another search engine toolbar using the social networking metaphor. I tend to like it better than Eureskter, because it allows me to go through sites it recommends and then tell whether I like the site or not by simply clicking on the thumbs up or thumbs down button. I don't have to stay on the site for one minute to have the site remembered. This is especially useful when I find a site that may be interesting, but not the focus of my current search. However, the suggested topics are somewhat vague and not entirely useful for the professional searcher. I hope that as I use it more and it "learns" what I like, the suggested sites when I click the on the StumbleUpon button may provide better results.

Finally, there is a new toolbar for Firefox from Clusty, a new metasearch engine from the creators of Vivisimo (see Figure 9 at right).

It allows access to the various features available from the Web site [http://www.clusty.com] by clicking on the small triangle next to Search. It allows searching of the Web, news, encyclopedia, images, shopping, blogs, and gossip. The toolbar currently lacks options for tabs present on the Web site: PubMed, Open, Firstgov, and Gigablast. One nice feature is the availability to "search this site," which allows you to search for given text on the site you are currently browsing. In testing, I have noted that the Clusty toolbar seems more sensitive to changes made to the appearance of Firefox than other toolbars.

By far my favorite search extension for Firefox is the Mycroft search box available from http://mycroft.mozdev.org/download.html(seeFigure 10 at right).

Just like Safari, Firefox offers a search box in the upper-right corner. But, unlike Safari, Firefox -- using Mycroft - makes it very easy to choose a search engine from a pop-up list of engines. Just clicking on the small triangle in the search box brings up the list of search engines that you have added (see Figure 11 at right).

Currently there are 1,278 search sites that can be added to Mycroft, with more being added regularly. I currently have 55 search sites installed. Unfortunately, unless your favorite site is already available from the mycroft.mozdev.org site, it is somewhat difficult to add new sites. A Web page allows you to create your own [http://mycroft.mozdev.org/generator/]. I found the process overly complicated and awkward. It might be better to submit a request to have the developers add your favorite search site. Currently though, no more requests are being accepted due to the large backlog.

Amazon's A9 recently released a toolbar it claims works with Firefox on the Macintosh platform. I installed the toolbar and signed in with my Amazon.com account, but the toolbar just refused to work. Typing a term into the search box and hitting return did not give back a page of search results; nothing seemed to happen. Even worse, it also affected all the other toolbars I had installed! None of them would take the search text and return a page of results. Fortunately, un-installing A9's toolbar allowed my other toolbars to return to functioning normally. I have submitted feedback to A9 and it suggested a conflict with another toolbar. It seems that when the A9 and Yahoo! toolbar are both installed, A9 refuses to work. I tried an updated version several weeks later and still had the same problem, even after reporting the problem twice. The second time, A9 support did not even bother to reply to my e-mail. I find Yahoo! and the other toolbars much more useful then the A9 toolbar. Until it is fixed, I can't recommend the A9 toolbar, at least if you want to use any other toolbars.

Needlesearch [http://extensionroom.mozdev.org/ more-info/needlesearch] is another popular Firefox toolbar. I have used it in the past, but find it's too tall and taking up too much valuable screen real estate. It also seems to cause screen-redrawing problems for me. I've tried it on at least three different occasions, but its problems always seem more troublesome than any features it offers.

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