Google: New Look and New File Types

Google‘s home page, known for its elegant simplicity, has gotten a little more complex. New tabs were recently introduced to give users easier access to the search engine’s features.

Don’t worry. Purists are unlikely to be upset by the changes. The tabs are simple, highlighted links sitting above the search box.

The tabs allow users to more easily reach Google’s other search databases — images, newsgroups, and results from the Open Directory’s human-compiled listings — in addition to Google’s own crawler-built Web page index.

“We created this tabbed interface look because we thought it was an easy way to give users access to the information we offer,” said Google spokesperson Eileen Rodriguez.

The tabs also appear on the Google results page, letting users easily switch between search indexes, as desired. For example, if you did a regular search for “madonna,” on the results page you could select the “Images” tab to switch from matching Web pages about the singer to matching images.

Ironically, AltaVista — which Google is oft-seen as usurping for those interested in “pure” search — also went in for tabs in 1998, when the service grew more complex than just pure Web search. After numerous redesigns, AltaVista finally dropped the tabs concept last May.

Of course, AltaVista did a lot more than add tabs as the service grew. Its foray into being a portal, complete with a massive amount of new links and content added to the home page, is a major reason why even AltaVista admits it lost pure-search users.

In contrast, Google proudly says that the latest changes actually reduced what few words were already on the home page by 30 percent. The company also says that the tabs have been found effective in user testing.

“Using the tabs has increased usage in those areas and made it easier to access the information,” Rodriguez said. In particular, she said there were significant increases in the take-up of image and directory search.

Google said it evaluated several design options, including integrating matches from all its different databases into one page. However, the tabbed option was seen as most effective by users.

Google is also planning to go beyond indexing only Web pages and PDF files in the near future. It won’t say exactly which new document types are to be added, but it’s fair to say that Microsoft Office formats, such as .doc and .xls, will probably be among them.

It is because so many people save important information in these formats that Google is likely to support them. That is the reason the company cited when it added support for Adobe Acrobat PDF files back in February.

A relatively new power command also lets you narrow your search to find documents in particular formats. “filetype:” is the command, and you follow it with the extension you want to search for. For instance, “california power crisis filetype:pdf” brings back PDF files that contain the words “california power crisis.” In contrast, “california power crisis filetype:asp” brings back Microsoft Active Server Pages (ASP) files, while “california power crisis filetype:html” brings back ordinary HTML files that end in .html and contain the search words. It will not bring back HTML files the end in .htm, however. Technically, Google considers those to be a different file type, simply because the ending is different.

By the way, you can also start your query with the filetype: command, should you prefer.

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