Tuning a search engine in IE

When Microsoft bundled its Internet Explorer browser into Windows 98 and then into Windows 2000, the productivity of PC users soared. Workers who once might have wasted time playing Solitaire could now waste time surfing the web.

When Microsoft bundled its Internet Explorer browser into Windows 98 and then into Windows 2000, the productivity of PC users soared. Workers who once might have wasted time playing Solitaire could now waste time surfing the web.

Reader John Dooley, when he isn’t wasting time, scours the web for valuable information using the Google.com search engine. He asks, “Is there any way to get Google as my default address line search engine?”

Of course there is a way, but it’s a bit trickier than you would expect. Versions 4 and 5 of Internet Explorer have the handy feature of allowing you to type a question mark (?) into the Address Bar, followed by a space and a string of words. IE then queries one of the engines found on its default list. (If you leave out the question mark and type a string that is not a web address, IE will use MSN Search.)

The problem is that Google isn’t listed. In IE 5, you can click the Search button, and then click Customise to choose among eight search engines. But Google is notably absent. In IE 4, changing the default involves editing the Registry. Microsoft describes this process in an article posted at Microsoft Support. The article doesn’t mention Google, although it documents the trick for several other engines.

This once wasn’t an issue, but Google is now one of the top 30 most-visited sites in the world, according to Media Metrix.

The answer to Dooley’s question is to edit the Registry as described in Microsoft’s article. But instead of typing a line for one of the other search engines it suggests, insert this line: www.google.com/search?q=%s.

Fortunately, Google itself provides a better way to do this that doesn’t require manual editing of the Registry. Go to www.google.com/options/index.html and click “other Google shortcuts”. On the page that appears, scroll down halfway to the section entitled “Make Google Your Default Search Engine”.

Explanations are provided for both Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer. The IE discussion includes three .reg files you can download and run to edit your Registry for you. One of them returns IE to its old defaults, if you wish.

Another option is the Google Toolbar, currently available only for IE 5. You can find it at www.google.com/options/toolbar.html.

Google’s special buttons, which you add to the Links toolbar in IE 4 or 5, provide even more flexibility. The Google Search button performs a query on any word or phrase you’ve highlighted in your browser window. The Google Scout button displays sites similar to the one you’re currently viewing, including competitors. Get these buttons at www.google.com/options/buttons.html.

Internet Explorer itself has too many search options to cover fully here. For more information, pull down IE’s Help menu, and then click Contents. Click the Index tab. Then select “automatic search from the Address Bar” and click Display.

Meanwhile, a website that allows you to search Microsoft’s and other firms’ knowledge bases using natural-language queries is continuing to grow and improve. Start at its home page, FreeAnswers.com, instead of its advanced search page.

Livingston’s latest book is Windows Me Secrets (IDG Books). Send tips to Brian Livingston.

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