Put Google on steroids

Take your Google-fu to the black-belt level with Firefox extensions and other downloadable tools for enhancing Google services.

Customize Google logo

With dominating Web search and the increasingly popular Gmail service, Google's dominion grows larger each day. The company makes powerful search and e-mail apps, but it's never been known for front-end interfaces.

Luckily for you, free downloads for Google Web search and Gmail can help you customize Google services to look and work they way you want.

You likely already know about the major Google software--Google Toolbar (for Mozilla Firefox or IE), Google Desktop, Google Earth, and Google Talk--but the lesser-known utilities and extensions often have the most interesting features.

One of the best I've seen so far is CustomizeGoogle, which is available for Mozilla Firefox and Internet Explorer. It lets you tweak your Google services in a myriad of ways, such as removing ads, adding links to other search engines, and making Gmail and Google Calendar secure (https).

Google search results customized
You can see from my Google search results that I\'ve removed the sponsored links, added position numbers to results, and included links to other search engines. (Credit: CNET Networks)

The coolest new feature of CustomizeGoogle (for Firefox) is the ability to stream Web search results. That's right--you can kick that "Next" button to the curb. Simply scroll to the bottom of a search-results page, and more results will appear automatically. You can also use your browser "Find" function to search the entire results content.

CustomizeGoogle is only the start of the fun you can have tweaking Google to behave as you'd prefer. For Gmail aficianados, one must have Firefox add-on is the Better Gmail extension from Lifehacker editor Gina Trapani. It's basically a collection of her favorite Greasemonkey scripts, nicely packaged for all of us too lazy to install Greasemonkey and all of the individual scripts separately.

Some of the nifty scripts included let you save searches, add color to your labels, access recent conversations with a single click, find all messages for a specific day, and preview conversations by right-clicking. A simple main interface lets you select which scripts you'd like to enable by selecting checkboxes.

Better Gmail from Gina Trapani
The main Better Gmail interface explains a bit about each script and lets you easily enable or disable them. (Credit: Lifehacker.com)

If you're the type of person who maximizes all 2.8GB (and counting) of free space that Gmail offers, you'll want to check out the Gmail Space extension for Mozilla Firefox. It provides an FTP-style interface for your Gmail account, letting you easily drag and drop files from your local drive to Gmail.

And if you're the sort of user who can only find e-mail using Gmail search, it might be best to migrate all of your existing e-mail accounts over to your Gmail interface. Luckily, Mark Lyon's Gmail Loader will help you shoulder the load. It automatically forwards any of your local e-mail to your Gmail inbox or "Sent" folder, while keeping a copy locally, if you choose.

What are your own favorite add-ons and downloads for improving Google or tweaking it to your liking?

About Peter Butler

Peter has been working at Download.com since 2003, when trialware was shareware and toolbars were those large metal rods for smashing car windows. Currently, he wrangles the reviews, videos, newsletter, blog, and special collections for Download.com, as well as managing the program data throughout the software directory.