Gmail, Google Maps, and Google Search: 19 Cool Tips

By Zack Stern, PC World |  Internet, Firefox, gmail

You probably use Google Search, Gmail, and Google Maps all the time, but you're only scratching the surface if you limit yourself to using their basic services. Here are 19 tips that can help you get the most from each of those great free Google tools, including a few prewritten scripts that work with the Greasemonkey add-on for Firefox to enhance your experience with Google's offerings.

For more, see the other stories in our "57 Amazing Things You Didn't Know Your Tech Could Do!" package, including our full list of tips and tricks.

8 Great Google Search Tricks

If you use Google only to search for words and phrases, you're doing it wrong. The service is loaded with many advanced tricks that you can enable from that unassuming search box. Check Google's Search Features list and Advanced Operators List often to see what's new. Here are my favorites.
Find the current time elsewhere: Don't bother trying to convert the time from your local setting to a distant city. Just type time city , as in time Beijing, to see the current time in that location. Yeah, it's too late to call your buddy there.

Search within a domain: Google's great search engine might be better (or simply more convenient) than the search box on a particular site. To limit results to a single site, type search term site:domain name , as in netbook review site:pcworld.com. You can even search within site sections, as in netbook review site:pcworld.com/businesscenter.

Search for a file type: You can look up results that match a specific file type. This trick is great for special searches, such as tracking down a product manual or video file. Try search term filetype:three-letter type . For example, I entered Zoom H2 manual filetype:pdf to find the manual for that Zoom recording device.

Get the weather: Type weather city name or zip code (as in weather San Francisco or weather 11223) to get a quick report of the current conditions and forecast.

Calculate and convert: The search box doubles as a calculator. Try typing math problems, such as 89*22/(16), or conversions, like 100 yards = ? meters. Google will do the rest.

Track stocks: If you're still bold enough to be in the stock market, you can enter a stock's trading abbreviation, such as GOOG, and the first result will show the stock's latest price, a graph of the day, and other financial details.

Get movie times: On the Web you have a myriad of choices to look up show times, but Google's simplicity is tough to beat. Just type movies: city or zip code , as in movies 68501. Click the More movies link to get more-specific listings.

Track packages: Have a FedEx, UPS, or USPS tracking number? Just enter it in the Google search box for the latest package status.

4 Google Gmail Tricks

Gmail is loaded with tricks to help you read and compose mail. If you want to keep up-to-date, Google maintains a list of recent Gmail enhancements. Here are four of my favorites.

Move quickly with keyboard shortcuts: You can use keyboard commands to speed effortlessly through navigation like a monkey swinging between trees. First turn it on by clicking the Settings link at the top of your Gmail page. Click Keyboard shortcuts on and then Save Changes. Afterward, you can press C to compose mail, R to reply, O to open, and much more. For other keys, see the full list of Gmail shortcuts.

Sort out unread messages: You can show only your unread messages with the search string label:unread label:inbox. For a one-click reference, save the search as a bookmark with the following tip.

Save searches as bookmarks: You can save Gmail search queries as URLs, and therefore as bookmarks. The Gmail Search Bookmarks utility allows you to enter your search terms and the bookmark title. Click Generate, and then drag the resulting URL to the bookmark bar for easy access.

Bookmark e-mail: Gmail messages have unique URLs for navigation. That means you can create bookmarks for specific notes. For instance, you can bookmark a message containing an Outlook calendar appointment or to-do item unrelated to Gmail, or perhaps some other message containing the directions to a big party. Afterward, you can return to the source message with just one click.

3 Google Maps Mashups

Google Maps is my tool of choice for driving directions and other basic routing. But some of my favorite uses don't come from Google at all--third-party mashups mix the power of Google Maps with new applications. Here are three great examples.

Track your walks and runs: Gmap Pedometer lets you trace around your neighborhood to calculate the distance, sticking to sidewalks instead of Google's street routes. Enter your weight, and it'll even calculate calories burned.

Preview the neighborhood: If you're moving or you're just visiting a new location, check out ParkScore, an app developed by The Trust for Public Land, for its color-coded map showing the distance to local green spaces. And Walk Score quantifies the layout of nearby drug stores, grocery stores, libraries, restaurants, and other destinations to rank local walking ability. (With a score of 98 out of 100, I feel better about my cost of living here in California.)

Estimate taxi ride costs: TaxiWiz cross-references local taxi fares with Google's maps, projecting trip costs. It works in about 20 cities, between any two points; you may also choose from an assortment of preloaded landmarks, such as the airport and tourist destinations.

Let Google Maps Discover Your Location Without GPS

I'm so used to Google Maps' knowing my position on an iPhone that manual entry of the information on my laptop has become a hassle. A little Wi-Fi voodoo, however, can triangulate your location without GPS. Sometimes it'll make a mistake, but usually it pegs me close to my actual position. Here's how to set it up in Firefox.

Install the Firefox add-on Greasemonkey if you haven't already. Then install Mozilla Labs' Geode (which is described as an experimental Firefox add-on to explore geolocation) and restart Firefox. Finally, install the Greasemonkey script called Google Maps & Geode - Together At Last.

Now, when you return to Google Maps, you can click the new Current Position text link. Just approve the security options, and searches can start from your location. It seems to work best in cities. Remember, too, that you have to be connected to a Wi-Fi network.

3 Greasemonkey Tricks

Greasemonkey, as mentioned above, is a Firefox extension that lets third-party scripts interact with the browser in many ways. User scripts can remix Web page interfaces, insert features that add to your convenience, and much more.

After you've done the basic Greasemonkey installation, click Add to Firefox. Restart the browser when prompted. Greasemonkey doesn't do much alone, but it will do quite a lot after you add scripts. Here are some cool options that enhance assorted Google services. You don't have to stop here, though: Go to Userscripts.org for all sorts of practical scripts that will turn you into a power browser user.

Google Account Multi-Login: Have more than one Gmail account? Use this script, and you can swap between multiple Gmail accounts through a drop-down menu. Instead of clicking the Sign Out link, you can jump right into your next account.

YouTube Download: The Flash videos on the Google-owned YouTube work well in a browser, but you might want to use this script to download the original files for offline playback. You will need an FLV-capable video player, such as VLC, to play them later.

Greased Lightbox: On Google Image Search and other picture sites, you have to make a few clicks to reach a big view of a thumbnail image. With the Greased Lightbox script, however, you need click just once on the preview for a full-window image. Click again to go back to the thumbnails, or click View image in its original context to jump to that site.

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