Any time you hear of a war brewing in the world of computing, sit back and smile: You'll eventually be the winner.
The latest example is the battle among search engines.
Google is the current champion. Its search engine rose to the top with a combination of zippy-fast results and an uncanny ability to figure out what users are seeking. In the ever-expanding Internet universe, that's a solid one-two punch.
Over in this corner is a new challenger, Microsoft. Company executives say they've been working hard on search technology and are now itching to show what they can do. "I think you'll see some good competition in this area," Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer was quoted as saying.
Meanwhile, don't count out longtime competitor Yahoo!. The company made its name as a Web directory and search engine but later neglected that legacy as it turned its attention to becoming a "portal."
The portal strategy has paid dividends. Yahoo!'s e-mail, shopping, personal finance and news services are a compelling package and draw enormous traffic to the site. But having exploited that opportunity, Yahoo! is once again turning its attention to search technology as an essential service.
What raises this battle from merely interesting to fascinating is the essential role of search engines on the Internet. As amazing as the World Wide Web is, the technology is barely usable without a search engine to help you navigate through it.
Like any champion who wants to hold onto its title, Google continues to work hard. Earlier this week, the company unveiled a variety of new services, including its Froogle search engine for shopping.
To be sure, most of these services had already been available somewhere on the Google site for beta testing. But Froogle is getting billing on the spartan Google homepage alongside such staples as Web search, news search, image search and Usenet groups search.
Right beside Froogle is a link labeled "more" that takes visitors to a collection of specialized search indexes that have likewise been tucked in the Google background. Google catalogs, for example, allow users to search a scanned collection of shopping catalogs.
Perhaps even more intriguing are features still in development, such as Google's personalized Web search and Web alerts. Both turned up this week in the Google Labs section.
Personalized searches allow you to narrow the field of possible results to boost your chances of finding precisely what you're looking for. For example, a musician searching for information on the blues might scan only the music catalog, rather than the entire World Wide Web.
Web alerts are a variation on the e-mail notifications already available for news topics.
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