Power User: You can find anything'almost'with these search tools

John McCormick

As computer power grows, the needs and wants of users expand exponentially.

A 1.44M floppy disk once seemed almost impossible to fill up with data. My first IBM PC XT had a 10M hard drive that I thought would last me forever.

Just 20 years later, 100G of storage seems cramped, and I have to turn to optical storage for backup and very large files. When I was writing two books about optical technology some years ago, 650M CD-recordable disks were considered massive in capacity. Today, DVD-R drives can store up to 4.7G per disk.

Dialing up the Web at 1,200 bits per second was the norm only a short time ago. Now 56-Kbps modems seem like horse-and-buggy technology compared with cable, digital subscriber line and wireless access.

But small, remote offices and mobile users still have to deal with dial-up, and that's bringing back browser accelerators. I've been using Propel from Propel Software Corp. of San Jose, Calif., at www.propel.com, and it makes a noticeable speed difference. The company guarantees its free trial download won't install spyware.

Finding and removing spyware is difficult, whether it was planted by advertisers or malicious software. Check out PepiMK Software's Spybot Search & Destroy shareware, a free download from security.kolla.de.

Last month I wrote about ways to fine-tune Google.com searches. Google blocks many interesting sites, and some users are concerned that Web-savvy companies manipulate its ranking system by using so-called link farms to raise their scores. Other users have been shocked to learn the sites they visit are being tracked via the Google toolbar.

There is now a switch to turn off the advanced search features, which work only when Google can see what you're doing online. Deactivating the advanced features blocks it from gathering data about your online activities.

As a shortcut to search options, the Google toolbar saves a lot of time. It bypasses sites' search tools and works even when they lack a search feature. Google's experimental features include a pop-up ad blocker along with Next and Previous buttons that jump to other search results. They don't seem to work when a site uses uniform resource locator forwarding, however.

The toolbar doesn't speed searches, just getting them started. That's a help if, like me, you turn to Google 50 or more times per week.

A metasearch site, www.fossick.com/Search.htm, is tops with me because it seldom duplicates Google results. Results aren't necessarily better, just different.

In a category of its own, www.activewords.com essentially turns every word that appears in a browser or other application into a hyperlink to other apps, templates or research keyed to a word or phrase. It's much superior to Microsoft Word's AutoText retyping feature. ActiveWords can provide boilerplate from any Windows program, including your browser. A free, 60-day trial copy is downloadable from the site. ActiveWords could be a real boon to researchers and fact checkers of any skill level.

GuruNet from Atomica Corp., at www.gurunet.com, also links words in apps to information but, instead of Web sites, it turns up definitions from dictionaries and encyclopedias plus explanations of hundreds of thousands of topics. The software links to virtually any application, falling back on Google or AlltheWeb searches when necessary.

My own free research Web site, at www.helpdotcom.com, collects basic statistics and does not require visitors to identify themselves or give e-mail addresses. I've learned that a number of government users come to the site often. Feel free to visit.

John McCormick is a free-lance writer and computer consultant. E-mail him at powerusr@yahoo.com.

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