Battle of the Toolbars

Battle of the Toolbars by pendragon Contributors: David Whelan David Whelan Google and Altavista have released duelling toolbars to try to grab hold of your Internet search loyalty. I compared Google’s beta toolbar (v2) and Altavista’s toolbar to see how they stacked up against each other. The short story is that they both share many similarities. The differences, when they work, are what will help you choose.

The More Things Change . . .

Let’s get the similarities out of the way first.  They both now have very nice pop-up blockers, to “kill” those annoying little windows that some sites (in my experience, and the NY Times are the most notorious) use to ding you with advertisements.  Both offer the ability to store old searches, to search the Web or other types of media – video, graphics/images, etc.  Both offer the ability to highlight the terms of your search, and jump from keyword to keyword.  Highlight text on your screen and right click your mouse button, and you will be able to do a Google or Altavista search of the highlighted text, without cutting and pasting it into any search engine.

Good Start But Struggling

There the similarities end.  Altavista has some hooks into other tools, some owned by Altavista, most just canned search queries.  These don’t work particularly well or as seamlessly as I would have expected.  They have embedded hooks to their Babelfish translation tool, but if you select Translate > This Site, it merely sends you over to Babelfish.  You then have to go back, cut and paste, and go forward again – and you could have managed the same thing by merely keeping a bookmark to the very useful Babelfish page.  The Lookup functions were also a nuisance.  This menu provides, apparently, quick access to Zip Codes, Area Codes, Currency Conversion, Weather, etc.  But it merely gloms on to your search, so I ran a search on “legal technology” and received my results.  Then I clicked on Lookup > Currency Conversion, and Altavista ran a search on “legal technology exchange rate”.  It strikes me as odd that Altavista would assume that the one search was in any way related to the other.  If there is no amount selected, you would think Altavista would merely return a page with exchange rate tools.

The King Isn’t Dead

To be up front, I have used the Google Toolbar almost since its inception and they have raised the bar quite high for competitors.  They do not offer the translation features of Altavista, but when they do offer hooks – to news, blogs, etc. – they send you to the right resource, they aren’t just toying with your search terms.  Google’s toolbar is superior to the Altavista toolbar for two reasons, because they are for the most part neck and neck in abilities.  The first is that every tool on the Google toolbar worked as I expected it to, and there are numerous options I still have not yet tapped.  Altavista’s peculiar tools, that do not work how I expect them to, and the lack of any additional customization, means that what you see is what you get.  Second, and perhaps more importantly, the Google toolbar would be hard to be merely because the search engine is so good.  For all competitors in this search & toolbar market, the toolbar is going to have to be richer and more powerful to compensate for the search engines rank relative to the other competitors.  Google had a compelling product before – it is even more compelling now, but its dominance will be assured if it can continue to be the leading search engine.

Where to Get Them

Google Toolbar:

Altavista Toolbar:  

Other Great Free Web Tools, at Webattack:

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David Whelan

I improve information access and lead information teams. My books on finding information and managing it and practicing law using cloud computing reflect my interest in information management, technology, law practice, and legal research. I've been a library director in Canada and the US, as well as directing the American Bar Association's Legal Technology Resource Center. I speak and write frequently on information, technology, law library, and law practice issues.