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If you’re looking for a way to customize Google, the best place to start is with your iGoogle page. Not everybody knows about this, but if you have a Google account, simply browse to www.igoogle.com and sign in. Here you will have the opportunity to view your Google Mail, check calendars and clocks and view various other default gadgets that are on offer.
For the best results, however, you can Add Gadgets, which will take you to this screen. Thousands of gadgets are available from RSS feeds to social networking tools; even games, audio and video can be added to your iGoogle page!
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View the News That Matters to You
Google News doesn’t just display what Google thinks you should know. You can configure it to display the latest headlines in the subjects that interest you. As you can see in the example above, clicking the Personalize button on the Google News page will enable you to add topics using the search field at the bottom. For quite wide-ranging topics, you might add various keywords, with the OR qualification to give a good selection. However if you’re looking for a specific topic, multiple keywords separated by AND will work (these are both conventions used in the main Google search box as well).
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Google Custom Alerts
In the event of you being too busy to check Google News for updates, you can customize Google Alerts to send news items of interest to your inbox.
Via www.google.com/alerts you can create a new alert by entering your search term and previewing the results. Just use the drop-down menus on the left to configure the results so that you have exactly what you want delivered to your inbox at the desired frequency.
This is a powerful option; misuse or an error in configuration can cause an avalanche of messages into your inbox, so set it up carefully!
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iThemes in iGoogle
Back with iGoogle, and the customization options don’t begin and end with configurable gadgets. You can also select from a wealth of themes that can be used to liven up your page.
Clicking the Change theme button unveils a selection of the top options to restyle your iGoogle page with a banner and appropriate color scheme. If you don’t like the initial choices, select Browse all themes where you will be able to search for a theme that suits you. All you need to do then is click Add it now and the theme will be applied.
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Change the Google Search Background
If you’ve had enough of staring at a plain white screen with a logo that occasionally changes when the mood suits it, you’re not alone.
Fortunately there are several different ways of changing the Google homepage background, but the best is provided by Google itself. To use this, simply click on the Change background image button in the lower-left corner of the screen. This will open a selection of images that you can choose to view on a regular basis, and if the Google selection of images doesn’t suit you can use photos and images stored on your own computer instead!
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For a wider selection, however, you might prefer PimpMyHomepage.com, a service that does exactly what it says. A wide choice of images is available and these can be setup and used as a Google home page. Better still, you can even create a customized page name to sit above the search box; for instance, where the Google search page has “Google" emblazoned across it, you might select your own name, or an amusing concatenation of Google and your name.
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Adjusting the Google Docs Layout
It might surprise you to learn that even the Google Docs interface can be customized. While you won’t be able to decorate the tool with photos of your nieces or favorite motor racing champion, you can nevertheless alter the layout slightly via the settings cog button in the top right corner. Simply choose from Comfortable, Cozy or Compact (shown here) from the Display Density options and the page layout will update as appropriate.
Should none of these options appeal to you can opt for the old version – Use the classic look can be found at the foot of the menu.
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Stop Google Targeting You
Did you know that you can also customize how Google displays adverts? This is a very useful option if you’re sick of looking at adverts that have been targeted to respond to your search terms, whether on Google itself or on other websites.
To do this, open www.google.com/ads/preferences/ and click on Opt out; this will prevent adverts from following you around, and restrict Google’s ability to target you. You can also add and remove categories that enables Google to target you with specific adverts on the search results page. If you’re keen to avoid this type of targeting (note that other adverts will still be displayed) then use the Remove option to discard these.
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Create a Customized Google Search
You can even customize the crown jewel of Google itself, the search engine. Forget pretty backgrounds and gadgets, this tool is all about creating a custom search engine which you can add to your website or blog.
If you run your own website, you might know that featuring a search tool can prove to be an extra load on your server and database. With Google Custom Search you rely instead on the power of Google itself to index your website and provide visitors with search functionality.
All your users will need to do is enter a search term, and the results from Google will display items from your website.
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Customizing Your Gmail Page
Finally, Gmail has a much wider selection of customization options available, namely in the category of Themes. You might have a little trouble finding these when you first sign into Gmail – you will find them in the Mail settings drop-down menu.
From here, select Themes, then browse the list of color-coordinated options that can be simply selected and applied. Note that some options require your location to be input, but this is nothing more than a live customization feature that will update your theme depending on the time of day.
- Author's own experience.