Firefox, Google and Web Search

Mozilla Firefox has Google, Yahoo and other search tools baked in, but they are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to search capabilities available with this innovative new web browser that launched its first official version today.

This is part 2 of a series; click here for part 1.

Firefox's search box appears just to the right of the address window. The search box is preconfigured to run searches on Google, Yahoo, Amazon, eBay and Dictionary.com. The default is Google, but you can select your search tool of choice using a drop-down menu.

Want additional search engines? No problem—select the "More Engines" option and you'll be taken to the Mycroft project, which offers an extensive collection of search plugins for all Mozilla-based browsers. Choose one of the "top ten" plugins for AltaVista, the Internet Movie Database, Wikipedia, and others, or browse for plugins by category.

If you're looking for general web search plugins, the General category is the one to visit. Here you'll find plugins for all of the major search engines such as Ask Jeeves, Dogpile, HotBot and so on, as well as country-specific search plugins.

It's also worth taking a look at some of the other categories. There are more than 44 search plugins for major news sites, 149 for shopping sites, 145 for computer sites and 63 for reference sites, among others. Three are also a half-dozen search plugins for kid-specific resources.

All of these plugins install directly into the search box next to the address bar. Installation is literally a snap—just click the link for the plugin you want to install and click "yes" in response to the message box asking you if you want to install the plugin. That's it. It takes less than a second to add new search tools to the browser.

Can't find a plugin for your favorite search site? Firefox allows you to create "custom keywords" that let you add your own plugin equivalent. See this article for more instructions and a lengthy list of pre-built custom keywords that you can use.

Firefox also sports a nifty "find on page" feature that can help you locate specific terms on lengthy pages. Press CTRL-F on your keyboard and a new search box appears at the bottom-left of the browser window. Type your search terms and your cursor instantly moves to the first occurrence found on a page (up or down), and the word is highlighted to make it easier to see.

Click the "find next" or "find previous" buttons to find other instances of your word on a page. If the words you're looking for don't exist on the page, the search box turns red and a "phrase not found" error message is displayed.

The find on page search box is persistent, remaining open until you click the red "X" at the right. I find that I use it often enough that I just leave it open most of the time.

Search Toolbar Clones

For those of you who are Google Toolbar addicts, fear not: The Googlebar for Mozilla emulates virtually all of its functions, at least those related to search. A dropdown menu lets you run your search not only in the web catalog, but in Google Images, News, Froogle, the Directory and adds the ability to search Google Answers, a feature Google's own Toolbar doesn't offer. The site search capability is also supported.

Googlebar also lacks some of the other goodies available in the Google Toolbar, such as the Auto Fill capability, a button to post to Blogger, and a few others. Most notably, the Googlebar leaves out a PageRank display.

If you're PageRank obsessed and still want to use Firefox, you have two options. The PageRank/Googlebar is another Google Toolbar clone that ostensibly displays PageRank. If you just want PageRank, a simple plugin called Page Rank Status installs without any of the search functionality offered by the two toolbars.

Be aware that the PageRank values displayed by these two programs are likely just as unreliable as those displayed by Google's own Toolbar. PageRank values should be taken with a (very large) grain of salt from just about any source.

Yahoo fans should try the Yahoo Companion Toolbar for Mozilla. This toolbar clone is not as comprehensive as the Googlebar, lacking a number of features offered by the Yahoo Companion for Internet Explorer.

Another interesting multi-search tool for Firefox is NeedleSearch which lets you "bookmark" search engines for direct access through the browser. Gary Price took a closer look at NeedleSearch in SearchDay earlier this year.

These are just a few of the search extensions available for Firefox. In the next installment, I'll look at some more specialized and esoteric plugins, as well as other features that enhance the overall browsing experience.

Part 1 of this series is here and Part 3 is here.

Want to discuss or comment on this story? Join the Firefox: A Browser Built for Search discussion in the Search Engine Watch forums.

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