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Toolbars, Desktop Search and Mac Users

Written By: Courtney Heard

These days, it seems everyone is releasing a Toolbar and Desktop search, from Google and MSN to Search Engine Optimization companies and Internet Service Providers. As none of these are being released for the Mac platform, it has left many of us Mac users wondering why.

Contrary to popular opinion, most software today does release a Mac version. With Apples launch of the iPod and iTunes music store, and the significant drop in computer prices, many people are switching to the Mac platform. Mac users are on the rise and most software companies recognize this and are meeting the Apple communitys needs. So, why hasnt Google, MSN, Yahoo! and all the other Toolbar pushers released a Mac version?

Its really quite simple. Since about 1997, with the release of Apples Sherlock, weve had all the functions of these toolbars and desktop search programs built-in to the operating system. With the exception of a Google PageRank checker, everything you can do with your Toolbar or Desktop search of choice, you can do with the software that comes built-in on your Mac. And now theres even a way to check the PageRank of every site you visit with any browser in Mac OS X. Id even go so far as to say us Mac users have it better. Shall we take a closer look?

Desktop Search software by Google offers 3 main features: search the files on your hard drive, search through your email, and search the web. All of these features have long been a part of the Macintosh Operating System.

Searching through the files on your hard drive has always been a snap for Apple users. The Finder is even named for it. In every finder window there is a quick search field (fig. 1) for a simple search of your hard drive. This search is a keyword search of the names of every last file on your drive, including your web history or SiteCache (fig. 2). You will also notice there are mailboxes in the returned search results in Figure 2. This is just a name search though, so only mailboxes with the keyword you wish to find in the name will be returned as search results using this quick search.

With a swift keystroke combination [Apple + F] or a selection from the File menu in the Finder, a search window opens up with seemingly limitless parameters (fig. 3). With this find function, you can search by name, content, date modified, date created, kind (i.e.. audio, video, text, etc), label, size, extension, whether or not it is a visible file, type, and creator (fig. 4). You can also search using a combination of these things by clicking the + button.

There are endless combinations of search criteria and locations. By using the “Search in:” drop-down menu, you can search in any specified location. Your home folder, your music folder and your entire hard drive are a few examples. Finder search is powerful, easy, quick and has been able to out-search any Desktop search tool since the 90s.

The quick search has also been included in Apple’s e-mail client, Mail. Search through messages and mailboxes for content, keywords, sender, recipient, subject and attachments. As the owner of a web-based company, I receive more email than anyone would consider decent, so you can imagine how much use I get out of this particular function (fig. 5). It’s absolutely invaluable.

So, what does that leave us with? Searching the web. Enter Apple’s magnificent Sherlock. Here’s where I turn into a total nerd.

Sherlock, released for the first time in 1997, is Apple’s way of organizing the web. Organized into channels, you can search many different services. Sherlock Channels include and are not even close to being limited to:
About.com
Best Site 1st
Looksmart
Lycos
Overture
Google web search
Google directory search
Google groups search
Google news search
Picture search – search for images on the web
Lycos Stock search – Search for a stock, it’s symbol, it’s last trade and news from the company it represents.
Dictionary.com – Look up words in a dictionary or thesaurus.
Systran translation – translate anything into a dozen languages.
AppleCare – search the AppleCare knowledge base for Mac tech support.
Movies! – This is my personal favorite. Powered by Moviefone, search for movies, their show times at theaters near you, a description of the movie, the movie poster and play the quicktime movie trailer, right there in Sherlock! See fig. 6.
Project Gutenberg e-text search – find electronic books.
Heise online – search tech news from heise online.
NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day – use the APOD viewer to browse through NASA’s latest pictures of the day – some of these are absolutely breathtaking.
USGS Earthquake Hazards – this lists the latest seismic activity, no matter how small, from around the entire globe. In the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunamis, this one can be a little frightening.
Ebay – Search for items and track them.
Phonebook – search for phone numbers, addresses and get directions to every search result.
Japanese news from Mainichi Shimbun
Above California – search maps for campgrounds, ranger stations, lakes, trails and much more.
Wedlock – plan your wedding in Sherlock.

Sherlock also features an RSS feeder, localized searching and web cams, and the ability to create and manage your own channel for just about anything within the possibilities of the world wide web. All of this, every last point, can be done without opening a web browser, but if you are within the Apple built-in Safari web browser, in the upper right hand corner of every window, there is a Google search field (fig. 7). So you say your Desktop search can search Google from your desktop? That might have impressed me in 1996, but I’ve been using those functions for years now. ’bout time you kids caught up.

So, between the Finder and Sherlock, I’d say Mac users have Desktop search more than covered. Next up? The Toolbar. The most popular toolbars offer some really useful features, such as a web search, pop-up blocking, check PageRank, autofill, and the ability to search within a web page. Every one of these features, with the exception of a PageRank checker, is built-in to Safari. We already covered the Google search in the top right hand corner (fig. 7), so let’s jump ahead to the others.

Since it’s first release in 2003, Safari has offered a pop-up blocking option (fig. 8). I’m on all the Apple newsletters and visit the site at least once a day. Needless to say, I had Safari almost the very second it was available to the public. In all my time using this browser, I have never once seen a pop-up. It’s a virtual brick wall that I am eternally thankful for – I don’t think I could do my job if I had to look at the myriad of products and services advertised within the wretched pop-up.

Autofill is also a feature that is available with Safari. Using your personal or business contact information from Apple’s Address Book, Safari will finish names, e-mail addresses, countries, states, provinces, phone and fax numbers, web site addresses, street addresses, etc as you begin to type them. Also included in this feature is the Safari autofill button in the address bar (fig. 9). One click of this button and the form on the open page is filled in. You can even have it automatically fill in your user name and password for any account on any site, but I would only suggest doing this if you are the sole user of this account and it is unlikely no one else will be using your computer.

Finding keywords within a web page is something that is available in every application within the Macintosh Operating System, much like Windows (fig. 10). The Apple key and the F key at the same time will bring up a search field and any instances of these keywords will be highlighted within the web page, the text document or the e-mail you are searching. You can also search within an entire site, by typing into the Google search field in the Safari window site:www.abalone.ca tsunami – this will search within the domain name abalone.ca for the term ‘tsunami’.

Now we’re only left with one thing. A PageRank checker. This has been my biggest issue with the Toolbars not being released for the Mac platform. I have written many, many, many letters to the developers at Google. It was of no use. They kept telling me to interpret the green lines under every link in the google Directory. Sure, Google, that’s not time consuming or anything. I searched and searched and searched and I found several web sites that checked PageRank after you entered a specific URL, but that wasn’t good enough. As an SEO company owner, I needed something that checked the PR of every site I visited without me having to do a thing.

After months of frustration, my brother finally came across the solution at konfabulator.com – widgets. Konfabulator is a small piece of software that allows you to run tiny programs called widgets. You can paste these widgets to your desktop, allow them to float above all other open windows or only bring them to the front when you need them. One such widget is a long-awaited PageRank checker for Mac (fig. 11). Once installed, it will check and show you the PageRank of any site you visit with any browser, automatically.

If you visit widgetgallery.com you can find more than 850 other widgets that do various things such as giving you the weather forecast, desktop search for almost every single search engine, bring you your favorite RSS feed, news, stock info, even plant a character of some kind on your desktop with whom you can interact. Konfabulator is available for Windows as well. These widgets are so useful that Apple has included them in the next release of OS X (Tiger) under the name Dashboard.

So, you can see, as a Mac user, I am outfitted perfectly with everything the Toolbar and Desktop search has to offer and more. Perhaps one day your toolbars and desktop search software will include some of the more advanced features we have, such as downloading and viewing movie trailers, checking flights and earthquake risks, etc. Until then, anything your PC can do, my Mac can do. Perhaps even better.

About the Author

Courtney Heard is the founder of Abalone Designs, an Internet Marketing and SEO company in Vancouver, Canada. She has been involved in web development and marketing since 1995 and has helped start several businesses since then in the Vancouver area. More of Courtney’s articles are available at www.abalone.ca/resources/

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