On Computing

Google Features You Should Be Using

Joel Howell

Article by Joel Howell Newsletter Editorial Board


You probably use Google as a search engine every day. Here, with thanks to Kim Komando, are eleven other Google features that you should also be using.

  1. Flight Search: There are lots of travel sites out there, but you probably didn’t know Google had one. As in other engines, just pick your origin and destination, and then plug in the dates. Google will even highlight the dates with the cheapest flights. You can filter the results by carrier, flight length, airline, price, and a number of other options. When you find a flight you like, you can jump to that airline’s site and book it.
  2. Breakout: Ever play this on an Atari? Just go to www.google.com/images and search for “Atari Breakout,” Game on!
  3. Public Data Explorer: Aside from its normal search site, Google has a number of specialized searches available. Go to Google, or search for “Public Data Explorer.” Once there, you can search population data, labor statistics, and any other published government data, which you can then graph and perform more refined searches.
  4. Translation: You can translate any phrase or sentence into more languages than you have fingers and toes (eighty, to be exact). The search can be written or spoken, and is available for both iOS and Android. If you want pronunciation, just double click the small speaker icon.
  5. Nutrition comparison: Go to the everyday Google search bar, type in “compare” (apples and oranges, for example), and you’ll get an analysis of which food is healthier.
  6. Definitions: Again at the everyday search bar, type in “define” and get the definition. You can also get pronunciation and word origin, among lots of other things. For an alternative, try the open source Wiktionary.
  7. Conversions: Ounces to cups? Kilometers to miles? The regular search bar will get you there with “convert.” You can then refine as needed.
  8. nGrams: Want to know how many times a specific phrase occurs in more than five million books since 1800? You can search multiple words by inserting a comma, adjust the time period and language.
  9. Sky: You probably already knew about Google Earth (didn’t you?). Sky lets you search for images of stars, planets, and galaxies. You can also get infrared and microwave images. If you’ve need been there, just look at the site suggestions.
  10. Exclude search terms: Any usual Google search can be refined by inserting the minus symbol before any words you aren’t interested in. This is an exclusionary operator that alters the normal search algorithm.
  11. Desktop Search: Curiously, Google abandoned its Desktop application in 2011, so there are no Google tools to search the contents of files on your computer. X1 and Copernic can do that job, but both are paid products. DocFetcher is a free, open source desktop search application. While you can still do a Windows search from the desktop, Docfetcher is a superior program. It can create an index of everything on your desktop quickly and allows a number of filtering algorithms, including minimum and/or maximum file size, file type, and location. You can get it at docfetcher.sourceforge.net.

Questions or comments? Drop me an email: jwh3@mindspring.com