Google is one of the most visited sites on the internet. Most of us use it for all our online searches. But it's actually far more than a search engine. Click on the "more" tab and more than 20 other Google applications can be found. There are variations on the main search engine, such as
Google Scholar, which allows a search of academic documents only, or
Google Blog Search, which searches only for blog topics that interest you.
Google Books, as the name suggests, searches books and magazines for particular topics, writers and so on. Users can also add items to their virtual library to build up a list of books to read.
Google Desktop is a download rather than an online application. It creates a searchable index of all files stored on your computer. Results are categorised into emails, files and web history pages. Users can also choose results that show only a certain file type. So, if searching for a photo, users may choose to see only .jpeg results. As more and more people keep stuff digitally, from photos to music, being able to search for something quickly and easily is key.
Google Alerts keeps an eye on topics of interest. For example, a person may want to follow anything relating to the Cricket World Cup and Common Wealth Games. Type in these terms to the "alerts" box, choose whether content is wanted from news sources, blogs or everywhere, and choose how often Google can email the results. Then, whenever Google finds new web content that matches those search terms, it will come straight to the user's inbox.
There are also applications that enable people to share and show information online, and they go way beyond the ubiquitous Gmail. Got things to say that you want the world to see? Google's Blogger is a good start. It is quick, easy and free to set up a blog, with ready- made templates and online tutorials. There is no need to be a tech genius.
Those who prefer talk should check out Google Talk, an instant messaging application through which people can chat and make voice calls with other Google Talk users.
Looking for likeminded people? Google Groups lets people create or join online discussion groups from just about every corner of the world.
Even language is no barrier. Simply select Google Translate, enter the web address of the page to translate and, in seconds, it's done. However, be warned. Like many online translations, it is not 100 per cent reliable and can throw out some strange phrases. I wouldn't use it to translate vital legal documents.
Google has its critics, not least those worried about it taking over the world. With great free tools such as these, it's easy to see how it might happen.