For some time there has been a battle of sorts between Yahoo! and Google for search engine supremecy. MSN has become the distant third runner in the race between these two search giants, but even recently Yahoo! has admitted that Google is likely to win out overall in this race. This does not come as a major suprise as it is still possible to purchase high rankings in Yahoo! whereas Google will not sell rankings to anyone (instead they sell AdSense spots which displays ads with relevant searches).
Most of you could care less about this webwar, but it has produced some very interesting results. Because the web is basically run by searching, these giants have been releasing dozens of free "gimmick" programs to continue to improve their corporate image. As a result, there are some great peripherial applications which can significantly improve your computer quality of life. I want to share a few of them with you today:
Photography / Picture Management
Both of the search engine giants have great offerings in this field because image management and image search is becoming the emerging language of the web. Though still heavily reliant upon written text, the popularity of "photo journaling" has exploded in the past year. Everyone has a digital camera, and everyone is seeking to have their pictures heard.
Picasa (from Google): This incredibly handy little tool allows you to find, edit and share all the pictures on your PC. Automatic location of pictures, folder management, albums and groups all are incorporated into this less encompassing use of the Google Desktop search engine. All of this is done on your local computer with no internet connection needed (the sharing is done across your home Wireless or Local Area Network).
Flickr (from Yahoo!): If you haven't heard of Flickr by now, you aren't paying attention. The self-proclaimed (and likely true) "best online photo management and sharing application in the world", Flickr allows you to free your computer of the burden of those 600 pictures of your weekend trip to Oklahoma City by uploading them to your own online photo album. The only downside to this is that if you are not online, you will not have access to those pictures, so I recommend you burn all your images to CD before completely deleting them from your system.
The whole World in your Computer
We have all been using Mapquest or Google Maps or Yahoo Maps or any number of the other map services for years now. In fact, we often find ourselves asking "how did we ever get anywhere before we had the internet?". (come live in Thailand and you will remember quickly that we used to just memorize where everything is) Well, where before we accessed our whole backyard online, now we get the whole world. In a surreal out-of-the-movies type of computer experience you can download Google Earth and literally spin the globe to wherever you want to be. Combining satelite images, road maps and terrain this is an experience worth the download. The drawbacks? This program can push the limits of many laptop video cards, requires a internet connection to run and is only as recent as the last satelite image (most of the images from Chiang Rai are over 5 years old).
Not far behind in this race comes MSN, whose founder and CEO Bill Gates says there will be a release of MSN Virtual Earth providing many similar features (enhancements?) to battle back from the ground lost to Google in this arena.
Widgets, Widgets, Widgets
Do you know any Mac people? They are pretty easy to spot... there are only two types: the ones who know more about video and photo editing than most professional photographers / videographers; and the conspiracy theorists who can burn thousands of dollars for a white word processor because they think Bill Gates is evil. All kidding aside, the Mac users are a very finicky bunch who know what they like, and when something clicks with them (see iPods) it is not long before it becomes a worldwide phenomenon.
Well, Yahoo! gazed into the crystal ball of what Mac users are using and saw the phenomenon that is Widgets.
Do you remember all those "free plugins" that turned out to be spyware or adware that would give you the current weather, the scores from your favorite sports teams or the exact correct time set to the Atomic Clock in Boulder, Colorado? Or how about the atrocity that was the Internet Explorer Active Desktop? These monsters that we loved, loathed and lost operating systems over were, at their core, good ideas. We became naturally fearful of them because of the lessons we learned, finally throwing up our hands and saying "I guess there is no such thing as a free lunch". Well, the ears of the good folks at Apple perked right up at this, for they are professionals at providing very expensive lunches. They created an engine which would allow people to write their own weather programs, clocks and sports feeds. Now, Apple users love to pay a lot of money to write their own software, so away they went. Fortunately, they also know how to take any graphics and make them look amazing, so soon thousands of these beautiful little Widgets were floating around on the thousands of Apple computers.
Yahoo! saw this and thought, "Hey, we are in the business of providing free lunches as long as you use our products and promise to be more loyal to us than to Google. We are going to design software so that the millions of Microsoft users can make, use and enjoy Widgets too". Thus, the Yahoo! Widget Engine was born. I confess, I was hesitant at first. I remember the years of digging through registry entries to clean out those great little extras that had eaten my operating systems. But I am back, and my desktop is proof that I have recovered from my fears.
If you are looking for picture management, the terrain of the Himalayas, great extras for your desktop, or any of the many other services available (email, blog pages, etc.) be thankful for the webwar-time economy of free software and server space that is available for your use. Have fun!