Category Archives: Web

My New Favourite Search Engine

I’m not a fan of Google these days. They were the most awesome company in the universe 5 years ago, but their search results have become really crappy (thanks to Panda and Penguin), and their desperate efforts to drag everyone into Google+, remind me of the bad old days of Microsoft trying convert the web to a mess of ActiveX.

But much as I think they’re making some big mistakes, they’re still getting a lot right. I really like my new Nexus 7 tablet, and while I dislike Google’s actual results, their search interface is still awesome.

I’ve been trying to move away from Google over the past 6 months, but each of the alternatives has issues:

Bing: Great results, but the interface is very poor. No easy filtering of recent results is a big problem.

Yahoo: Their homepage is such a mess. And they’re really just a proxy for Bing.

DuckDuckGo: I’ve been using DuckDuckGo as my default Chrome search for the past 6 months. I love the purity of their search, and their bang syntax is awesome, but for finding recent results that are skewed towards the UK, they’re not really competitive with the big boys.

My new solution: I’ve just realised, that if I set my Chrome search to Yahoo! UK & Ireland, I get results from Bing’s index, I get UK targeting and the ability to filter the results by date, and I never have to see Yahoo’s homepage. The results page even looks more like Google’s results than Bing, and now Marissa Mayer is running the show, Yahoo might actually be going places.

Plus, having recently contacted Google, Bing, and Yahoo about various issues, Yahoo were by far the most helpful of the three.

So here in 2012, I can’t quite believe I’m saying this, but the best search experience is Yahoo, powered by Microsoft, through a Google browser!

My Analysis of Google’s Chrome OS

A couple of days ago, Google announced they’d be releasing a lightweight operating system called Chrome OS in 2010. The Blogosphere has spent the last few days speculating on how Chrome OS will compare to Windows in a head to head fight, and whether it will take significant market share from Microsoft Windows in laptops and desktops. I think that’s missing a lot of the point. For what it’s worth, here’s my uninformed speculation.

  • When it comes to browsers or operating systems, I don’t think Google care very much about market share of particular products, but they do care about the underlying technologies. The  Chrome browser has a relatively small market share, but it has had a disproportionate effect on the direction of browser development as a whole. There’s an arms race in areas such as JavaScript performance and HTML5 support, and the Chrome browser gives Google a tool to use to push the technologies it favours. Sure, Google would like you to use the Chrome browser, but if you choose another modern browser with similar features, such as Firefox 3.5 or Safari 4.0, I think Google still count that as a win. A similar argument also applies to iPhone vs Google Android.
  • A small percentage of marketshare in either browsers or operating systems is still a big number of people. If Chrome OS gets 5% of the operating system market, and Google has say 200 people working on it, I bet that looks like a good investment.
  • I’m often faced with casual computer users with old PC hardware. Windows is running like a dog on their system, and often they don’t have Windows restore media for a clean install. Many of these people just about accessing their email, Facebook and some online shopping, not video editing or photo editing. A web browser is enough for them. Currently their best option is Ubuntu (which is still quite heavyweight for old hardware), or some mini Linux distribution. These do work, but there are always some silly issues that spoil the experience. No doubt Chrome OS will have a cleaner interface, will be faster on old hardware, will be kept up-to-date without the user intervening (like the Chrome browser), and will be very secure. If old hardware is supported, it will be by far the best option for basic web users with old hardware.
  • More and more people have secondary machines in their homes and offices, and while a web browser isn’t the only application they need on their main system, in many cases it’s more than enough on a secondary device, as long as the price reflects the limitations. Michael Arrington’s Crunchpad is a great example of a device that embraces this.
  • In response to Linux netbooks, Microsoft have been selling Windows XP at a big discount to PC manufacturers, and have been quite liberal about the hardware specifications of this hardware. With Windows 7, it appeared that Microsoft wanted to tighten up the restrictions on netbooks, and sell the operating system at less of a discount. Chrome OS gives PC manufacturers a club to beat Microsoft with, and may well force Microsoft to discount Windows 7 for netbooks to a greater extent than they planned. I can’t see Google losing any sleep over this.
  • The ARM compatibility of Chrome OS is a very big deal. ARM SoC (System on a Chip) are very efficient in terms of power, and are also very cheap. Sub £100 ($150) smartbooks (like netbooks, but not Intel based processors) suddenly look realistic. 1Gb of RAM, 4Gb of flash storage,  combined with an ARM chip, is already a very cheap platform, and is only going to get cheaper over time.
  • If you can have a modern fast web browser on very cheap and efficient ARM processor, why not embed them in lots more devices, many of which already contain processors and RAM. Manufacturers could very cheaply add Chrome OS to a TV, a PVR, a games console, or a monitor. Spend an extra £20 ($30) on a monitor or TV and get Google Chrome OS builtin. The Nintendo Wii has an optional Opera browser, which is passable, but hardly a great experience, and it presumably wasn’t cheap to develop. Instead, just add a couple of cheap chips and you get a good web experience from Google, with the added bonus that Google look after all the updates and security.

In summary, I think Google aren’t going for Windows or Mac OS X head on, but just want more machines out there running Google friendly modern browsers at a low cost. In many ways, Chrome OS reminds me of Microsoft’s plans for Windows CE a decade ago. CE never really made much progress beyond Windows Mobile devices, but in this new world where the web browser is king, perhaps Chrome OS will have more success.

Live on Twitter

I can’t seem to manage short blog postings (at least about personal stuff), so they’ve become pretty rare beasts.

And neither am I the joining type. If I can live without an account, so much the better. That’s partly why is so open. I’m happy to say that I don’t have accounts on MySpace, Facebook, or the New York Times.

But Twitter has tempted me. Doubtless the posts will slow once the initial enthusiasm wears off, but nonetheless, let’s give it ago.

You can follow me as distantparts on twitter, and I’ve also added a widget of my most recent twitters to this blog.

I’m becoming addicted to eBay

Not in a serious way, but I’m finding it very easy to buy some of the best PS2, Xbox and Gamecube games that I missed out on when they were released. It’s difficult to resist when really highly rated games can be picked up for £6-8 inc delivery. I must stop though, as I doubt I’ll ever find the time to play through the games properly.

Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution (PS2), Outrun 2006 (PS2), and Crimson Skies (Xbox) are my most recent purchases. Now I just need to find a cheap copy of Burnout 2 on the Gamecube.


For anyone who hasn’t seen it before, Techmeme is definitely worth a look.

It seems to do a great job of distilling the important tech stories of the day into a single, regularly updated page. Much easier than trying to manually filter out the important stuff from multiple RSS feeds.

It’s like a serious and very picky version of Digg or Reddit.

Nintendo Wii Internet Channel

I managed to get a Nintendo Wii when it was launched in the UK a couple of weeks ago. I’ll probably post about it when I’ve had more chance to play with it, but I wanted to do a quick post on the Wii Internet Channel (basically a version of the Opera web browser) that was released today.

On first impressions, I’m very impressed. It renders very well, has reasonably useful zooming, and works beautifully with the Wii Remote (the vibration as you move your cursor over a link is great).

However, I’m beating round the bush here. All that matters is that YouTube works, including full screen playback. For some people, a small wireless device like the Wii, which shows photos and plays YouTube videos on their TV, will be well worth buying, regardless of the fact that it also plays games.