Google is far more than a search siteit has grown to be a sizable collection of services and tools, and the collection is getting larger all the time. No longer is Google a single search site; instead, it's a conglomeration of multiple sites. And no longer can you even call it Web-based because Google now includes software that you download and run on your PC.
This book often refers to tools and services. Although there is a lot of gray area in the definitions of these two terms, generally a service is a website run by Google. So, for example, the bargain-finding site Froogle (www.froogle.com) is a service because it's a Google-run website; you have to visit it on the Web to use it. Google's image-management software Picasa (www.picasa.com), on the other hand, is software that you download to your PC, and so it considered a tool.
So where are the gray areas? Google Earth is an example of something you could consider both a tool and a service: You have to download it and run it on your PC, but you also have to be connected to the Internet to use it because it gets all its information from Google online. The same holds true for the Google Toolbar, which you download and use on your PC, but also use to search Google.
This book covers all of the major tools and servicesor at least those that were available during the writing of the book. Google introduces new tools and services all the timeand changes or updates its existing onesso what you see when you head to Google might be slightly different from what you read in this book.
Because of that, before reading the rest of the book, it's a good idea to take a quick tour of Google so you can find the newest tools and services on your own.
When you use Google's tools and services, you'll notice that many of them are labeled as being Beta. Traditionally, beta software is software that is still in the testing phase, is still being worked on, might have bugs in it, and might have features that will change. But Google is extremely liberal in applying the term beta. In fact, for Google, the term is essentially meaningless. A Google tool or service might be labeled beta for a year or more, even if it has no bugs and doesn't change.
The nearby figure shows Google's familiar main page. To do a search, type your search terms in the search box. But look beyond the familiar search box. Across the top-right side of the page is a series of links. The links show that I've already signed into Google because the links include Personalized Home, Search History,My Account, and Sign Out. If I hadn't been logged in, only two links would be there: Sign In and Personalized Home. (And when I clicked the Personalized Home link, I'd first have to sign in before I could get to my Personalized Home page.)
Google's main page is command central for Google's tools and services.
The links do exactly what they say. Click the Personalized Home link to go to a personalized, customizable home page that includes news stories, information feeds, stock and weather information, and more. (For details on how to set it up, start with About Google Personalized Home.) Click the Search History link and you come to a page that includes all the searches you've done while you've been logged into your Google account. (See Add Bookmarks and Your Search History to Google Personalized Home.) The My Account link enables you to change your Google account settings, which were covered earlier in this chapter. And the Sign Out link, obviously, allows you to sign out of your Google account.
Why should you ever bother to sign out of your Google account? Shouldn't you simply stay logged in forever? Not necessarily. The main reason to log out is to protect your privacy. While you're logged in, anyone using your computer can make full use of your account. This means they can read all your email in Gmail, send mail from Gmail, see your search history, and so on.
Now look at the links just above the search box. These links lead to several of Google's main services and tools. These links might change over time, but at the time this book was written, they linked to Google Image Search (Images); Google Groups (Groups); Google News (News); Froogle (Froogle); Google Local, which used to be called Google Maps (Local); and Google Desktop (Desktop). There's also a more link, which is covered in some more detail. In addition to these links, to the right of the search box are links to Advanced Search (for doing an advanced search), Preferences (which enables you to change your Google preferences), and Language Tools (which enables you to search through pages written in specific languages, and also includes language-translation tools).
Google prides itself on its barebones interface, so it's unlikely that you'll see many more links than what you see here on the front page. But this minimalist interface leads to a conundrum: As you'll see in this book, there are many more Google tools and services than there are links on Google's front page. In fact, this book doesn't cover all the tools and services that Google has because there are too many. So how do you find out about a tool or service, or even discover which ones exist?
That's where the more link comes in. Click it, and you'll see the More, more, more page with the current, comprehensive list of all Google's tools and services. So to get to any of these available features, head to the More, more, more page. For a description of the main tools and services here, see this book's Appendix.
A few links of note are on the page. The web search features link is a great place to go if you want to use Google's many specialized searches, such as for package tracking, stock quotes, music, and more. And the Labs link is the place to go if you want to see what new features Google is cooking up in its labs. New Google tools and services start here. Some experiments don't see the light of day, while others go on to fame and glory.
The Google More, more, more page always contains the list of all Google's tools and services.