The mercurial Internet has a new winner in the search engine race

John McCormick

Readers who search the Web often know that search engine differences aren't limited to user-friendliness. Some sites index many times more Web pages than others.

Check out www.notess.com/search for a glimpse behind the front ends at the quality and range of information you can find with various engines.

The new leader, I'm embarrassed to say, is one I had never heard of before: Fast Search & Transfer, at www.fast.no. I spend much of my workdays conducting online searches, so it just goes to show how quickly the Web is changing.

Fast Search & Transfer claims to index more than 300 million pages, putting it ahead of perennial leaders www.northernlight.com and www.altavista.com. It has a friendly interface that lets you choose exact words, all words or any words in a phrase. It also has more sophisticated search tools, but the novice page is very useful.

Searching on my name, I found 82,346 page hits. The Power User column wasn't among the first 10, but adding the term to the search string brought 3,780 hits. The first 24 were my GCN columns.

The same search at www.google.com turned up 2,080 hits for my name and only a single hit with the name of this column.

I still like Google, but from now on I'm going to start a lot more searches at www.fast.no. Of course, there's always a trade-off. According to the November 1999 statistics at www.notess.com, Fast Search & Transfer had 22 percent dead links compared with about 4 percent for Google and Northern Light.

Managed care

Some people think I'm crazy to have so many e-mail addresses. But it doesn't matter how many accounts a person has as long as they can all be managed centrally. My secret weapon is at www.desktop.com, a site that's still in beta testing but shows promise for road warriors.

Popular e-mail services such as the one at www.yahoo.com can retrieve only Post Office Protocol mail from other accounts. Advertising supports most e-mail services, and you cannot read the mail without viewing the ads. What desktop.com does is log on to all your accounts periodically and download the subject and sender information. It supports POP3, Hotmail, America Online, Mail.com, NetAddress and Yahoo accounts.

The service from Desktop.com Inc. lets you know you have mail and also manages your user names and passwords. To read a particular message, click on it to open the actual mail server page.

I let it run all day, monitoring traffic in my 11 e-mail accounts. There are security concerns because the site stores user names and passwords, so I use it only for nonsensitive accounts and save a lot of time and keystrokes.

Desktop.com's site aspires to be a complete Web work environment, hosting a simple word processor, contact database, calculator, to-do list, sticky notes, file storage, image management, newsreader, favorite site list and so on. It's a promising work in progress.

On the horn online

Talk is cheap or even free if, like 2 million others, you sign up at www.dialpad.com. This site lets you make free telephone calls from your computer if you have a headset and audio card. Only the person originating the call needs a computer; the call will go through to standard telephones.

Even with a relatively slow 28.8-Kbps modem connection, I heard excellent sound on some calls. I could even call while remaining online.

I did experience a few dropouts and slight delays in hearing the other person and vice versa over a poor 26.4-Kbps connection. Sound card settings also can affect the sound quality.

Calls are limited to the United States. Dialpad.com Inc. plans to extend service to Europe, and in any case you can call home for free from overseas if you are the person originating the call.

The free Web-to-phone link concept could be useful for travelers who can access the Internet for free but have to pay for voice calls. It also might work well where phone service is poor, especially overseas, because the routing will be different for part of the connection.

There are other Internet phone call services such as those at www.callrewards.com, www.deltathree.com, www.mediaring.com and www.net2phone.com, but Dialpad.com offers the only one that is free without promotional requirements.

John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with computers since the early 1960s. E-mail him at poweruser@mail.usa.com.

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