We all live in Google. It's more than merely the one of the best search sites on the planet; it has become a constellation of sites and services, from desktop applications to Internet-based applications and destinations, and it's even branching out into offering free Wi-Fi service.
In short, Google is its own universe—and like the universe after the Big Bang, it's constantly expanding.
That means that becoming Google-savvy is as important, and possibly even more important, than becoming Windows-savvy. After all, Microsoft Windows is just an operating system. To do anything useful with it these days, you need Google or one of its many services.
To help you get the most out of this brave new universe, we're presenting more than 30 Google tips and tricks. They'll help you get more out of the Google Desktop search application; Gmail, Google's unique and useful free online e-mail; and a variety of other Google services, such as Google Video, Google Maps, Froogle, and more. Oh yes, we forgot . . . Google is a search engine too, isn't it? So we include tips for better Google searching as well.
(Note: For the tips in this section, you'll need Google Desktop, Google's free desktop search application. Get it at http://desktop.google.com/)
Change the Location of Your Google Desktop Index
Depending on how many files you have on your PC, the search index Google Desktop creates can get pretty substantial—easily 1GB or more. If you don't want the index clogging up your main drive, you can easily move it to a different drive. To move it, follow these steps:
Exit Google Desktop.
Open Windows Explorer and navigate to C:\Documents and Settings\USERNAME\Local Settings\Application Data\Google\Google Desktop Search, where USERNAME is your user name.(Note: Local Settings is a hidden folder, and you might not be able to see it. If you can't, you can unhide it. To unhide it, In Windows Explorer, choose "Folder options" from the Tools menu. Click the View tab, and under "Hidden files and folders," click "Show hidden files and folders." Then click OK.)
Move the entire Google Desktop Search Folder to a different drive. You don't have to replicate the entire original folder path—you could, for example, move it to D:\ Google Desktop Search.
Open the Registry Editor by choosing Start->Run, typing regedit, and clicking OK.
Go to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Google\Google Desktop.
In the right-hand pane, double-click "data_dir" and change its value to the new location of the Google Desktop index, for example, D:\ Google Desktop Search.
Exit the Registry editor.
Restart Google Desktop search.
Google Desktop search will function as it normally does, except that the index will be in its new location.
Revisit the Past with Google Desktop
Have you ever wished you had a diary of your computing workday—a detailed rundown on every file you opened and saved and when you did it, every Web site you visited and when you visited it, every e-mail you received? Perhaps you need that information because you're a consultant or get paid by the hour. Or maybe you want to retrieve a file or e-mail, but only remember what day you worked on it or opened it, but not much else about it.
In those cases, you can revisit the past using the Google Desktop's Browse Timeline feature. This nifty tool will show you, for any day, all the files you opened and saved, the sites you visited, and the e-mail you received, in a minute-by-minute breakdown, as shown in the nearby figure.
To browse your timeline, double-click the Google Desktop icon, and from the screen that appears, click "Browse Timeline." You'll be brought to today's timeline, with your most recent events at the top. (For the Google Desktop, everything is an event—a file, an e-mail, a Web site, and a chat.) To open a file or e-mail, or to visit a Web site, click on it, and it'll open in your application, browser, or e-mail software. Navigate to earlier parts of the day by clicking "Older" or "Newer." Jump to different days using the calendar and drop-down list on the right side of the screen.
You can also filter the events, so that you could, for example, only view documents, or e-mails, or Web sites. To do so click "emails," "files," "web history," or "chats" at the top of the window.
The timeline has one drawback: For those who use their PCs frequently (which means most of us), it gets very cluttered, with hundreds of events and files every day. There's a way to cut through the clutter, though. You can remove any event from the timeline. When you remove an event, you don't delete the underlying file, e-mail, or whatever. You only remove it from the timeline. To remove events, click "Remove events" on the right side of the screen. All the events shown on your screen will be displayed, with boxes next to them. Check any you want removed, and click "Remove."
Power Up Google Desktop with Plug-Ins
Google Desktop does plenty, but there's a lot it can't do. Wouldn't it be nice, for example, if it would sort your results by name and date? How about the ability to index and search more file types than Google Desktop can normally do?
You can do that, and a lot more—even including controlling your iTunes player—with Google Desktop Plug-Ins. They're free and they install right inside Google Desktop. To get them, go to http://desktop.google.com/plugins/. Here's a list of some of the more useful and intriguing ones:
Google Desktop Extreme
This is the ultimate tool for power searchers. It lets you sort your results by name, date, file type, or relevance, and offers auto-complete for faster typing of searches and to recall previous searches. It'll also show thumbnails when you browse images. There's more as well, including the ability to use skins.
Archives plug-in for GDShttp://desktop.google.com/plugins/i/archives.html
One thing that Google Desktop Search won't do is index and search inside archives, such .zip, gz, tar, and rar. So if you have archive files, you won't be able to find what's in them. This plug-in solves the problem. It indexes and lets you search through 7z, arj, bz2, cab, gz, tar, rar, and zip archives. It also will search through nested archives as well, so if you have ZIP files within ZIP files, you'll be able to find them.
Google Desktop Extra Images Plug-in
Google Desktop indexes and finds many standard image files, including jpg, gif, bmp. But what if you've got .tif, .pcx, .wmf, or other file types? Turn to this plug-in, which indexes dozens of graphics file types, and lets you find them with Google Desktop.
This neat little applet runs in the Google Desktop sidebar and monitors and displays information about your system—the amount of CPU being used, input and output performance, virtual memory being used, and other things at which uber-geeks like to stare.
If you use iTunes to play music, give this sidebar applet a try. It lets you control the player, and includes controls for play/pause, next song, previous song, repeat one/all/off, shuffle on/off, show/hide iTunes, and song rating.
Manage Your Google Desktop Indexing
After Google Desktop installs and indexes your hard drive, it continually updates that index. By default, it indexes your C:\ drive, but no other drives, and no network drives.
You can, however, change all that—you can add new drives, including network drives, and you can tell it to exclude specific folders, URLs, entire domains, and file types. And you can turn the indexing on and off at will.
Most of this is controlled from the Preferences page. To get to it, right-click on the Google Desktop icon in your System Tray, and choose Preferences. You'll see a screen like that shown in the nearby figure.
To add another drive to index, or to add a network drive or folder, click "Add drive or folder to search," browse to the drive or folder you want to index, and click OK. You'll have to do this each time you want to add a new drive or folder. Click Save Preferences, and the new drive and folder will be indexed when Google Desktop does its normal indexing.
To exclude a folder or even an individual file, from the index, click "Add file or folder to exclude," browse to the drive, folder, or file you want to exclude, and click OK. You'll have to do this each time you want to exclude a new drive, folder, or file. To exclude a URL or domain, type it into the box next to Add file or folder to exclude, and click Add URL. Make sure to include the http://. If you add a domain, all the pages and subdomains underneath it won't be indexed. Click Save Preferences, and the folder, drive, URL, or domain will be immediately excluded from the indexing.
To exclude entire file types, go to the Search Types section, uncheck the boxes next to any file types you don't want to be searched, and click OK. The files will be immediately excluded from the index. When you choose this, files already indexed aren't actually deleted from the index. Instead, Google filters them out when doing a search. So if you decided to include that file type, those files already indexed will show up in your search results
Power Up the Sidebar to Read Blogs and RSS Feeds
The Google Sidebar is one of those features that you either love or hate. When you install Google Desktop, it's turned on by default and runs down the right side of your screen, and displays a wide variety of information in individual panels—news articles, e-mail, clips from the Web, photos, and more.
I've found that most people turn the Sidebar off, because it takes up screen space and is usually too confusing to use. But when configured properly, it's a great tool for displaying and alerting you when there are new blog posts, new e-mail, and more. Here we'll show you how to use the Sidebar as an RSS reader.
Start off by killing the clutter so that it'll be easier for you to read blogs and other RSS feeds. By default, the Sidebar displays far too many panels; it includes everything from photos to stock information, weather reports, e-mails, news, and even a "Scratch Pad" for taking quick notes. To remove a panel, click the down arrow at its far right, and select "Remove." To remove many at once, click the down arrow at the top of the Sidebar, select "Add/Remove Panels," and remove the ones you don't want. Make sure that you leave the Web Clips panel, because that's the RSS reader.
By default, the Web Clip panel picks up two RSS feeds—the CNN top-stories feed and the official Google blog. To add others, click the down arrow on the Web Clips panel, choose Options, then type in the URL of the RSS feed you want to add and click "Add URL."
What if you don't know the feed URL? No problem. As you browse the Web, Google Desktop automatically gathers the URLs of RSS feeds as you go. So head to the blog or page you want to read using RSS, and Google will automatically pick up its URL. Once you've visited the pages, follow the steps for adding an RSS feed from scratch, outlined in the previous paragraph. You'll notice at the bottom of the screen the names and URLs of all the RSS feeds associated with pages you've visited. Select the one you want to read in the sidebar, click Edit, then press Ctrl-C to put it into the Clipboard. Click OK, and then when you're back on the Web Clips Options page, paste it into the "Add URL" box and click "Add URL." If you're looking for an RSS feed for a site you've recently visited, click the Add Recent Clips button, highlight the RSS feed you want to view, and click OK twice.
Once you have the feeds you want, they'll automatically show up in the Sidebar. Click any you want to read, and it will expand out so you can read the entry in the Sidebar itself. Click the headline to visit the entry on the Web site.
If you want to see more than the handful of entries, click the double-headed arrow on the Web Clips pane, and a long list of entries will appear.
(Note: If you want to check out a Google service devoted only to reading RSS, check out http://www.google.com/reader.)