Dont Overlook the Google Deskbar (I didnt say Toolbar)

    March 24, 2005

There’s plenty of talk about the Google Toolbar, but I don’t really hear much about the Google Deskbar. It’s a shame, as it’s really a great tool, does many of the same things as Toolbar, yet takes up only about an inch of your taskbar. I’m not sure as to why the lack of awareness-maybe because Google is really pushing the Toolbar.

But, I’m going to give the Google Deskbar the attention it deserves. Everyone reading this should at least give it a try. It doesn’t matter which brand of browser you are using-Explorer, Firefox, Opera or whatever-you’ll find the Google Deskbar makes it so simple to do quick searches, check your spelling, do a simple or complex calculation and more. What’s really great is that a browser does not even need to be open! And, even if one is, it does not even open up a new page in your browser. Instead, it uses an unobtrusive, small mini-viewer that you can modify to a size that works for you.

And while the built-in searches are cool enough, you can build your own custom “searches” to web sites that you frequent. And you can pass variables to the URL for a dynamic web page display!

A Quick Description First

The Google Deskbar is a Windows application that gives you the ability to search the web without forcing you to stop the work you’re doing. Google startup puts a search box in the Windows taskbar and displays your search results in a small mini-viewer that rises just above it. You don’t even need to use your mouse, as everything can be done with keyboard shortcuts. It does most of the things that the Google Toolbar does but takes up less of your screen’s real estate.

Two-minute Installation

The Google Deskbar is one of the tools you’ll find on the Google Software Downloads page; also found at Google Deskbar Home. From either page, it’s a quick install. Just click the “Download Now” button to download it to your computer, and then double click the file to install it. Once it’s installed, you must right click on the taskbar and go to the Toolbars menu and select Google Taskbar to display it.

Using the Google Deskbar

To begin using Deskbar, you need to place your cursor in the search field it installed in your toolbar. You can mouse over to it, or press the Ctrl+Alt+G keyboard shortcut from anywhere. Key whatever keyword you want into it as if you were keying it into any Google search field. If you then just press the enter key, it does a standard Google web search, bringing up the results in the mini-viewer above it. If you want a different type of search, click on the menu button to it’s right, just past the binoculars image, and select the desired search type. The selected search results page will appear in the mini-viewer. After this, clicking on the binoculars will show/hide the mini-browser, with the previous contents remaining in it.

There are also keyboard shortcuts for each type of search. For instance, Google News is Ctrl-N and Google Images is Ctrl-I. These shortcuts only function once your cursor is already in the search field.

You can customize the mini-viewer to your personal preferences. You can change its dimensions by dragging its top left corner until you get the size that works for you. Deskbar will remember this setting between uses. You can also change the size of the text shown in the mini-viewer. Just open the Deskbar menu, select Options, and open the mini-viewer tab. Here, you can change the font size, in addition to other operational characteristics.

While you’re in Options, take a look at the other preferences you can set. You can control things like if it should open a browser when clicking on results, use AutoComplete, make searches sticky, keyboard shortcuts, the preferred Google site (language-specific site), customized searches and more.

Did I say Customized Searches?

Warning: this section gets kind of technical and is not necessary to understand for everyday usage of Google Deskbar

I’ll bet only one out of a thousand Google users know they can creat custom searches in the desktop. But just why would you want to do? It’s very useful if you go to any site often that allows you that asks you for a keyword. For example, Google Deskbar comes with two custom searches built in. One is for and the other for stock quotes. Common to both of them is that you pass a variable (respectively, the word to look up or the stock symbol to request).

Before building your own customized search, you can take a look at the built-in ones to see how they are done. In Option’s Customized Searches tab, click on either “Stock Quotes” or “Thesaurus” and press the Edit button. You can see that the URL has a “{1}” in it for passing the variable. (Google has complete instructions for this.)

Let’s build one from scratch so you can learn how to do this. Why don’t we build something that is similar to the Stock Quotes, but instead we will request headlines from Yahoo for a publicly-traded company. The first thing to do is to go to the page you’ll want to bring up; just pick any stock symbol for now. The page for recent headlines in Yahoo Finance (for Google stock, symbol GOOG) is:


Look for the question mark. That is what precedes the variables that are passed from the URL to the program. In this case it is “s=goog”. That’s the variable we have to change before we enter the URL into the Customized Search entry we’ll make. We need to change “s=goog” to “s={1}”. The “1′ means variable number 1. This will pass to the URL whatever we key in the deskbar search field

Choose to “Add” a customized search entry. In Name for deskbar menu, key in something like Stock Headlines. You can pick a Ctrl-key keyboard shortcut here too. Then, enter the URL ({1}) we just created into the URL field and click OK:

Viola! Now I can key my stock ticker in the search field and press Ctrl-H to bring up the latest headlines in my mini-browser.

Give it a Try

I haven’t covered everything on the Google Deskbar. Google has some good Deskbar Help pages for that. I do hope that you install the deskbar, and play around with it, referencing this article and the help pages when needed. I think that you’ll find it a time saver and if you are using Internet Explorer instead of Firefox or Opera, it will save you from opening too many instances of your browser (Firefox and Opera use tabbed browsing).

Mark Fleming is the founder of a new blog called Google Tutor & Advisor. Google Tutor & Advisor offers in-depth Tips, Techniques and Advice for Google Users.

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