The Skinny on Web SearchingWant superior Web searches? Seek the Steve Bass way and ye shall find.
The squirrel is back. It raids the backyard bird feeder, outmaneuvering me, my squirt gun, and both pooches. (Hey, no chuckling. Squirrels are a birder's equivalent of a Windows General Protection Fault.) With last month's column in mind, I decided to scour the Internet for a squirrel-defense system. Along the way, I picked up some Web searching tricks and three cool search programs.
Here's my favorite search shortcut: Suppose you want to find articles on Microsoft's site that deal with shutdown problems for Windows 95, but not Windows 98. Microsoft's Knowledge Base has masses of useful articles, especially if you need to troubleshoot a Windows error.
But instead of using the site's lame search tool, go to Google.com and type shutdown articles 95-98 site:microsoft.com in the search box. (Don't forget the space after '95'.) You can search in practically the same way at the Fast site: Enter shutdown 95-98 in the search engine's 'Search for' field, and microsoft.com in the Domain Filters 'Only include' field. This makes searching one or several specific sites incredibly easy. Pretty soon you'll feel like you could pluck a needle out of a dozen haystacks--or Web sites--without breaking a sweat.
You can dredge up secrets about virtually any search site just by looking at its help or advanced search pages. For instance, Google's Preferences page lets me open its search results in a new browser window, and I can customize AltaVista and Fast to highlight my search terms in their lists of results. And if you have children, you may appreciate being able to instruct all three search sites to filter out pages containing offensive language.
If a lengthy URL (the link's string of characters) in your search results is dead--returning a message similar to "This page could not be found"--start at the right end of the string and remove everything up to the rightmost slash; then hit Enter again. This will likely take you to a part of the site that's "up the path" from the page you were trying to open.
You may also get a dead link in a Google search result. But Google keeps a copy of practically every page it looks at while collecting links for its database. Just click the word Cached toward the end of the Google search result to view the stored copy.
I use three tools to blast my way through Internet searches. They're all free, and I consider each a must-have.
I'm hooked on the indispensable Google Toolbar, which has taken up permanent residence on my Internet Explorer screen. (Sorry, the Toolbar wasn't available for Netscape at press time, but you can use the browser button on Google's own site for the time being. Google's Toolbar highlights my search terms in the text of the Web pages it retrieves. It also provides quick newsgroup searches and keeps a search history. Another handy trick is the Toolbar's ability to search only the currently active page. Don't want the Toolbar? Make Google your browser's default search engine.
Katiesoft is a nifty utility for opening as many as four browser and site windows--ideal for moving quickly from site to site. It's a no-brainer to use: Drag URLs from the two windows showing the search engines, and drop them into the other two windows. You'll find the Google Toolbar and Katiesoft at PCWorld.com's Downloads.
One downside of Katiesoft is that it quarters your active browser window, and the three added vertical and horizontal scroll bars further reduce the remaining visible area. If your screen real estate is limited, try Quickbrowse. Select up to 19 search engines, and watch the site stitch together all of your search-results pages into one long page that you scroll down in a single window. Quickbrowse is Web-based, so there is nothing to download.
And yes, I did find a way to thwart that pesky squirrel. You can see it for yourself at The Yankee Flipper.