Now that Google Chrome is live, I spent some time looking at the search features within it, especially to see — as I did recently with Internet Explorer 8 — whether Google was going to try to stack the deck in its own favor. Like Microsoft, Google’s playing it straight. As for search features, I’m mixed on whether I like the new "Omnibox" feature that combines a browser’s address bar and search box into one single area.
After doing the install, Chrome checks to see what the default search engine is for the browser you’re currently using. Then it confirms if you want to stick with the default or choose a different search engine:
Unfortunately, the button text didn’t come out well in the screenshot above. What’s happened is that Chrome saw that Yahoo is the default I had set in Firefox, reports that it has seen this setting and asks if I want to keep it. The first button in this case says "Keep Yahoo! as the default search engine" while the second says "Change search engine."
Want to change? That only happens if you push the button. In other words, as with IE, nothing changes unless the users makes that happen.
Let’s say we DO want to make a change. That brings up a new options window:
Where in the third section down, the default search choice is shown. Push the Manage button in that area, and you get this:
As you can see, there are five search engines listed:
- Live Search
Note that the screenshot above was made when I did my first installation of Chrome, where I did NOT allow it to look at Firefox (because I still had Firefox open at the time and couldn’t close it due to other work — and Google was my default in Firefox at the time).
When I did an uninstall and reinstalled with Firefox closed, I got that list above except Yahoo was listed first (I changed my Firefox default to see what would happen), then Google, Live Search, AOL and Ask were listed, then I got:
- Creative Commons
I think these extra search engines were listed because they are ones that are shown in Firefox other than Live Search, which Firefox itself doesn’t list.
In short, if you were looking for Google to try and stick it to Microsoft, they don’t. Live Search gets listed as an option, just as over on Internet Explorer, Google is listed as an option. Good behavior on behalf of both companies, thanks!
Somewhat related, if you go to Yahoo using Chrome, you get this:
Each of the search engines has a long history of trying to pull people away from particular browsers and/or toolbars (see Microsoft Live & Yahoo Push For Firefox Users, Plus Revisiting The IE7 Search Battle), and Yahoo’s simply playing that game with its "Try Firefox 3" link — which leads to a custom version of Firefox offered by Yahoo. It’s not a Chrome-specific message. I get the same thing when I go to Yahoo in Internet Explorer 8.
Back in the old days, browsers had an address bar but not a separate search box. Then we got toolbars that added dedicated search boxes to the browser, with the Google Toolbar probably being the most popular today. Eventually, Firefox especially popularized the idea that a browser should have a search box built into it. Many people use that, but clearly many people still do not — otherwise the change to put a search box right into Internet Explorer 7 last year should have made usage of Live Search rise to some degree — which didn’t happen significantly.
I think those who’ve used to learn a built-in search box become heavy adopters, at least from what I’ve seen of my own behavior and looking at friends and family. So it’s kind of scary that Google’s playing with the separate search box by eliminating it.
Google has said that many people already use a browser’s address bar to perform searches. This is a well-known fact that still lacks a convincing explanation or research into why it happens. Common reasons are:
- People are stupid and get confused
- People try it, and since most modern browsers let a search happen, they learn it works
So Google’s decided it should go, so the separate search box is combined with the address bar in what it calls the "Omnibox." Enter a search term there, and you’ll generate a search that hits your default search engine:
In the example above, I started typing [cars] and I get a prompt to "Search Google for cars" as well as other options. Nice — and it’s also nice that as you surf the web and visit other sites that have search boxes, Google learns you can do searches there and adds them to the options. For example:
After visiting eBay once, I was later able to type in [ebay transformers] and get an option to "Search ebay.com for transformers" after a list of related searches I might want to try on Google. Similarly with Amazon:
After visiting Amazon once, I was later able to type in [amazon pokemon] and get an option to "Search Amazon.com for pokemon" after a list of related searches I might want to try on Google.
Note how after the Amazon listing, it says "Keyword: amazon.com." That’s actually the shortcut I should use to do a search and make Amazon come up at the top of the list, to specifically search with it. For example, consider this:
See how I get a little button-like image that says "Search Live Search" that appears. This because I’d gone to Microsoft’s Live.com site (which is Live Search), so the next time I entered "live.com" into the Omnibox, Google Chrome knew I wanted to search specifically with Live Search. And if I’d typed in Amazon.com followed by search words, that would have turned into an Amazon-specific search.
It took me a bit to figure this out, and it’s kind of a pain having to type in effectively the entire URL of a site in order to search there. If I’m typing Amazon.com, then I might as well hit return and go there? Sure, I can definitely save time if I just put in my search terms as well, but I have a feeling that’s going to be too power-userish for many users. But it’s a nice feature, and we’ll see how it goes.
Ultimately, I still kind of wish I had the dedicated search box. And for those who depend on the Google Toolbar, don’t get your hopes up to see it any time soon. Google told us they’re likely to develop some type of generic API for Chrome first, then bring the toolbar out.
That should be reassuring to those who are paranoid that Google wants Chrome just to spy on them. Google’s Matt Cutts has a nice post that explains how practically nothing is sent back to the Google mothership from Chrome now. But I’m sure a toolbar will come — and that you’ll get reporting back to Google eventually, all with the users consent, of course. Google’s personalized search service depends too much on gather that surfing data for this to not be offered as an option.