Secrets of the Search Button

First Published:
Date Published: 1997
Copyright © 1997 by Kevin Savetz

Go ahead, press it. The Search button, nestled in Navigator's and Communicator's toolbar, won't remove mildew from your bathroom tile with scrubbing bubbles, but it can make accessing the Internet's search engines a little easier. Pressing the Search button punts your browser to Netscape's Net Search page, which offers several unique features -- as well as some lurking pitfalls.

You'll notice several tabs near the top of the search page, labeled Lycos, Yahoo, Excite and Infoseek. Directly below them is a search window to one of these search engines. This is your default search tool. Enter a search term into that window to search with your default tool or click on one of the tabs to switch to a different search engine. This setup is rather elegant: you may find this miniature window more convenient than zipping off to the "real" sites of the various search engines. The Search page's window provides access to the major topical listings of each engine as well as a keyword field, making it easy to browse or search any subject with any of these tools.

You can change your default and add another search engine to the fifth tab by clicking the "Customize" button. A JavaScript window will appear allowing you to change those two settings. The other choices of search tools are AOL NetFind, WebCrawler, HotBot, Looksmart and (You'll also notice these in the "More Services" tabs on the right edge of the Search page.) If your favorite search engine is missing from the list (as are AltaVista, Dogpile, MetaCrawler, Northern Light...), and you'd like it to have its own tab, you're outta luck. That is, unless you can convince your favorite search engine to fork over to Netscape the big bucks it charges to be added to the list.

Of the nine possible tabs on the Search page, you can write off WebCrawler and AOL NetFind -- both are basically just the Excite database in branded shoes. If you're tempted to use one of these, use Excite instead.

If the Net Search Customize feature produces an error or just doesn't seem to be working, there are a couple of things to check. First, the browser will gag if you've used a bookmark to reach the Net Search page -- it will behave better if you got there by pressing the Search button instead. Customize relies on JavaScript and cookies. If you've turned either feature off, it will choke. Choose Edit->Preferences->Advanced to turn JavaScript and cookies back on.

Down the page a bit, below the tabbed interface and the banner ad, are links to a variety of other search tools. The "White and Yellow Pages" column offers a good selection of telephone lookup tools, although my personal favorite, Switchboard ( is missing from the list. Don't miss the Electric Library, a link to which you'll find in the "Search Engines" column. This gem of a service lets you search thousands of magazine and newspaper articles, books, TV and radio transcripts and other fare that are not available with other search engines. is well worth the $9.95 monthly subscription fee.

On the other hand, I don't understand why the Net Search page lacks a link to DejaNews, absolutely the Net's best tool for searching Usenet newsgroups. Bookmark it yourself: The "Specialized Searches" column is a good start, but only lists a smattering of the Net's specialized search tools. For a better selection, point your browser to Research-It! (, where you'll find dictionaries, mapping tools, currency converters and other useful reference sources.

A unique feature of the Net Search page -- one that you can almost miss if you aren't looking for it -- is the International Search menu. It's hiding near the bottom of the page. If you're looking for search engines in languages other than English or focusing on a specific country, you'll find this particularly useful. Pick a country from the pop-up menu (from Australia to the United Kingdom) and tap "Go." Before you do this, be sure your browser and your brain are wired to understand other languages: the site descriptions are in Japanese, German, French and so on.

Articles by Kevin Savetz