From the start, Google has been good at hiding power behind simplicity. Little has changed in that regard, as the leading search engine's main page is still spartan.
By Jay Dougherty
But there's much more buried behind that simplicity than ever before. You can use Google's simple search box now to do far more than type search phrases.
To find that hidden power, though, you'll need some know-how. Let's get started.
Search box tricks
Most people think "search terms" when faced with the search box. But Google has lots of new tricks up its sleeve for those who would like to leverage the Internet's vast resources for more than finding documents.
Ever find yourself reaching for a calculator, dictionary, or currency converter while working at your PC, for example? Put away the extra gadgets or programs. Google now has you covered.
To calculate numbers, just type them into the Google search field with the appropriate mathematical symbol, and click Search.
Instead of a list of search results, Google Calculator will take over, giving you the result instantaneously.
Google Calculator is as sophisticated as any dedicated device.
Not only can you use typical expressions such as 45*128, but you can build complex expressions involving square roots, trigonometric functions, and logarithms - and get results in an instant.
For a complete reference of the symbols and expressions you can use to build calculations, refer to Google's Calculator reference page
Looking up words is just as easy.
Instead of pulling up an online dictionary or - even worse - using a paper-based one, just type a word into Google's search box, and click Search.
You'll receive a lot of links to Web pages containing that word, but you'll also notice the word "definition" underlined in the blue bar just above the list of search results.
Click that "definition" link, and you'll be taken to a full dictionary-like reference page devoted to that word.
There, you'll find not only the definition but also a pronunciation guide, often complete with a clickable sound byte that allows you to hear exactly how the word is pronounced.
Try it, for instance, with the word "bloviate."
Behind the Google search box is also hidden a full-fledged currency converter.
To use it, just type a phrase such as "25 dollars in pounds," without the quotation marks, and click Search.
The result will not be a list of search results but a quick result, such as "25 US dollars = 12.6033474 British pounds."
Instead of typing out the full word representing the currency, you can also use abbreviations.
Google keeps a full list of acceptable abbreviations at its Currency Conversion
Find the best free stuff
Everyone loves to search for freebies online, but few do it effectively.
Type the word "free" in any search phrase, for instance, and you're bound to end up with dozens of spam-like links to pages that lead you nowhere.
Leverage Google's ability to search only those sites where users have rated freebies before you, though, and you'll quickly get to something worthwhile.
The trick here involves using Google's ability to search specific sites along with some knowledge of where people congregate on the Internet to talk about specific subjects.
The Internet's growing number of social networking sites are perfect for this.
You may already know about the popular StumbleUpon site, for example, where folks write about great Web sites and Internet-related finds that they stumble upon.
Let's say you'd like to search that site for the best free ring tones that people have found online.
Just go to Google's search box and type "site:stumbleupon.com free ring tones," without the quotation marks, and you'll be directed to lots of good, free ring tones.
The same site-searching principle applies to any of your favourite, well-known sites.
This trick works far better than just searching Google randomly for free stuff.
Make a date
Google does not allow you to specifically to search by date, but you can use a special "date switch" to narrow your search results.
You can specify that you wish to find only documents from a certain date by adding plus or minus signs next to years placed after your search term.
For example, if you want to search for Beatles-related items from 2005, you would type "Beatles +2005" in the search box, without the quotation marks.
You could also narrow the same search even more by using the minus sign to specify that items from some years are not to be included in the results, as in "Beatles +2005 -2004 -2003."
No one can remember all of Google's search tricks. That's why a few programmers have come up with Web sites of their own that attempt to leverage the power of Google's hidden search in an interface that everyone can understand.
One of the most popular is the Google Ultimate Interface
This nifty site allows you to fill in easy-to-use form fields to limit Google searches by file type, date range, language, country, and much more.
To perform all the tricks available from this site would involve typing a lengthy search expression into Google - and few could remember how to do that accurately time and again.