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Last Updated: Friday, 16 June 2006, 14:36 GMT 15:36 UK
Click Tips
Rob Freeman
By Rob Freeman
Click tip-ster

Rob Freeman, Click's very own Mr Fixit, troubleshoots your PC problems and helps you get the most out of your computer.

We could hardly conceive of using the Internet without a browser, and to prove just how established these applications have become, they have spawned their own little industry - the toolbar.

There is just about a toolbar for everything, from ones which are good at finding stuff on the web to the bad porn ones.

Why have toolbars become so prevalent? It is all about branding, or rather, brand extension.

Toolbars allow the big search companies to get their name on your browser and keep it there no matter what type of computer you have, or software you are using.

The built-in search box is always visible so that you get into a habit of using that, rather than any other search page.

Single buttons linking to their other services, like webmail, do not require as much effort to use as bookmarks, and the search companies are banking on you being lazy and just using the toolbar functions rather than heading off somewhere else on the web.

Toolbars are a way for them to keep you as much as possible within their world, because the longer you stay there, the more money they stand to make from you.

Everyone is out to get you to download their own particular version, and this week we will look at the merits of three: Google, Yahoo and MSN.

These websites have now become so data rich that you start to need a toolbar if you are going to be able to use them effectively.

And, I have to add, even on a couple of websites where I would consider myself proficient, I discovered some features which were not apparent until I downloaded the toolbar.


First Google, which comes out poorly in terms of features, but that's because it is not an Internet Service Provider in the same way as Yahoo and MSN.

I like the way you can highlight search terms in a page to find them more easily, and there is a spell checker included.

The spell-check is not built in, so in order for it to work, the toolbar sends any text you want checked over the internet to Google. So there are privacy issues to bear in mind here.


On to Yahoo, which now includes a spyware removal tool called Anti Spy. The software comes from Pest Patrol which sells a standalone Spyware remover for around $30 (16) and gets good reviews, so if the Yahoo version is in anyway similar, to get it for nothing is a good deal.

Yahoo requires you to log in for most features to work, including setting up which buttons you want included in the toolbar, but it does mean that your toolbar settings will follow you to different computers if you use more than one.


Finally MSN, which only works on IE. It is disappointing there is no MSN toolbar for Firefox, because I quite like the features, however it is obvious why: Microsoft would prefer you to use only Microsoft products.

MSN finally brings tabbed browsing to IE, something Firefox and Safari have had for a while.

The MSN toolbar also comes with a desktop search application which indexes the contents of your local computer so you can find files and messages quickly.

Google actually had this idea first, but with Google it is still a separate application and not yet incorporated into the toolbar.

One of the first useful functions for toolbars was acting as pop-up blockers, but the major browsers all have this built in now, so for the IE versions of these toolbars I would advise turning this additional blocker off. Why? Because having two pop-up blockers running will have odd effects, and your favourite sites may stop working properly, and then you have to examine two lots of pop-up software to find out which one is causing trouble.

The MSN toolbar is aware of some of the other Windows settings and will warn you if you have both switched on; this is really helpful, one of the advantages of also owning the operating system.

Sensibly, the Firefox versions do not have a pop-up blocker at all because Firefox can do this itself.

Until now I have not been a fan of toolbars, largely because I like the freedom to use different elements of a product rather than being coerced into using just one brand for every function. I can search in Google, share photos in Yahoo, and Hotmail all my friends.

But, if you do tend to stick with the brands that you have become familiar with - and if you do, you are like most people in this world - then a toolbar is a very convenient way to access all those functions and use them to the full.

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