05 June 2010

Personalize your Google homepage with a background image

The Google search homepage has always been a model of simplicity; some even called it “Spartan” at times. Even after iGoogle was introduced, users could easily switch back to the simple interface with an empty background. This week, a now option was added, somewhere between these two: keep the uncluttered look of the standard search page, but personalized with a background image.

The new feature was already active for my account when I checked yesterday, only two days after release, but only on the main .com domain. I played around with it a bit, before settling for one of my own photos, shot a couple of years ago with a Canon EOS 5D. You can choose between photos from your computer, images stored on Picasa Web – your uploads or the ‘Public gallery’ - or the ‘Editor picks’. It’s a little strange that the ‘Public gallery’ doesn’t have buttons to navigate to more photos, because the ‘Featured’ gallery has a lot more. I guess you can use the included ‘Search’ box instead. The ‘Editor picks’ are also very good, including pictures from National Geographic, as well as some simple, monochrome options. There you will also find the images featured in the official announcement. Google search select a background image

All the customizing is done “in the cloud”: the background image is linked to your Google account and if you choose a local file you are prompted to upload it to one of your Picasa Web albums. This means the personalized background will appear on any computer when you log in to Google. Unfortunately, this doesn’t also mean “in every browser”: as with most Google services, is not supported. Surprisingly, the feature is also missing if you visit google.com in the alpha version of , but this could get fixed with later, more stable versions of the browser.

Google search with custom background

One limitation of the new, personal Google home is that it doesn’t display Google Doodles anymore. You still get a notification when there is a doodle on the regular homepage: a group of four bubbles in Google’s colors next to the white logo. If you decide you don’t like Google with a wallpaper or you would rather have the doodles, it can be easily removed by clicking the link from the bottom left of the page. Or, to turn it off temporarily, you can log out of your Google account or use alternate homepages that don’t have the feature yet: the localized Google pages or the encrypted search currently in beta. Google search with doodle notification

Inevitably, a lot of people (including me) compared this feature to the Bing search page. It looks like it on first view, but they are actually quite different: Bing loads another image every time you visit the page and you have no control over what picture they use. Google’s background image is instead an opt-in ‘bonus’ for logged in users and it’s completely customizable. In fact, if you regularly use the browser’s search box you probably won’t notice the change. But this could be one of the small steps towards Chrome OS, like someone commenting on Google Operating System puts it: I suppose in Chrome OS Google's homepage will really be the desktop. And in this interconnected world, would that be such a bad thing?

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