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Internet Explorer Toolbar Wars

by J.W. Olsen
08/31/2004

First came browser wars. Microsoft Internet Explorer won the popularity contest in the marketplace after a gruesome duel to the death, regardless of whether its features were superior. Now we have the Internet Explorer toolbar wars. Leaders of the pack include the four add-ins reviewed here, those from Google, Yahoo, MSN, and Dogpile.

Truth be told, we found far more similarities and power than differences among these toolbars. Your decision may come down to which online search-engine web site you prefer. The Google, Yahoo, and MSN toolbars are joined at the hip to their search engines and other features offered on their sites. Meanwhile, Dogpile harnesses the results of multiple search sites and adds some attractive bonuses. The latest versions of all these products are roughly equal in suppressing annoying pop-up ads, but Yahoo now incorporates reasonably good spyware suppression as well.

Perhaps the best news is that you don't have to limit yourself to one search toolbar. We found that they live together happily; you can turn them on and off through Internet Explorer's View ->Toolbars menu, and you can uninstall any that you no longer want. It's like a delicious dessert cart from which you can pick and choose at whim.

Google Toolbar

If you simply need a no-nonsense search toolbar that uses arguably the best search engine on the Web, the Google toolbar is the hands-down winner. Our testing found that search results were almost uncannily what we sought, even when we didn't know the spelling of search terms. Google's Page Ranking feature adds value in finding the best sites for your search--if you are willing to let Google track the sites that you visit. Google promises not to collect personally identifiable information about your preferences.

PROS: Provides excellent results and page rankings, and doesn't stray from its search-related purpose.

CONS: Doesn't offer access to other features, such as web-based email, for users who want them.

Download Google Toolbar

Click for larger view
The Google toolbar offers straightforward simplicity. (You can click on the screenshot to open a full-size view.)

Yahoo Toolbar

The Yahoo toolbar provides one-click access to features on its site, such as mail, news, and My Yahoo. Yahoo updates its toolbar buttons based on current areas of general public interest. For example, at the time of this story, one of the latest buttons sends you to information about the Olympics. That's a plus for those who like the Yahoo web site's approach to drilling down by topic and subtopics. It's a minus for those who don't want to wait for the toolbar to update its buttons when online for a search. The Yahoo toolbar is the only product in this roundup with built-in spyware protection, though you can download the toolbar without the spyware feature if you prefer an alternate spyware suppression tool.

PROS: Toolbar buttons offer access to current popular topics. Uniquely among search toolbars, the product offers spyware protection to help safeguard against malicious attacks while you are surfing the Web.

CONS: Toolbar buttons are updated when you may just want to go online for a quick web search.

Download Yahoo Toolbar

Click for larger view
The Yahoo toolbar puts you one click away from searches for games, romance, or the latest popular happenings. (You can click on the screenshot to open a full-size view.)

MSN Toolbar

Like Yahoo's add-in, MSN's toolbar offers buttons that take you to many of its web site features, such as Hotmail, Messenger, and My MSN. However, for other users the MSN toolbar offers few benefits beyond those of its competitors. Microsoft is playing catch-up in the toolbar wars, just as it did in the browser wars, but don't count it out when it releases later versions.

PROS: Provides quick access to several MSN features.

CONS: Users who don't frequent MSN won't find many compelling reasons to choose its toolbar.

Download MSN Toolbar

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The MSN toolbar provides quick access to major MSN online services. (You can click on the screenshot to open a full-size view.)

Dogpile Search Toolbar

Dogpile searches multiple third-party search engines for matches to your search queries, though from our experience that no longer adds much value to a query. However, we did value the one-click ease of searching telephone white pages for U.S. residential listings and yellow pages for business listings. We also appreciated the ability to customize a news ticker on your desktop to meet your needs, including an RSS tool, as well as the ability to right-click on words in a web page or Word document to search for related documents in cyberspace.

PROS: You aren't restricted to the query results of a single search-engine site; unique features will appeal to a variety of users.

CONS: The results of searching multiple search engines against a query may not be worth the added time of doing so.

Download Dogpile Search Toolbar

Click for larger view
Buttons on the Dogpile search toolbar offer unique features that aren't tied to a specific web search site's features. (You can click on the screenshot to open a full-size view.)

J.W. Olsen has written, edited, and served as freelance book project manager exclusively in technology publishing since 1990.


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