A dialog of thoughts and ideas about software, usability, and products, with random science and wacky ideas thrown in for good measure.

Google has unveiled their new Image Search interface. Doc Searls expressed his dislike of the new search (and his growing preference for Bing's image search) on his blog, and Dave Winer tweeted his agreement. I thought I'd check out Google's new capabilities to form my own opinion.

I tested Google Image Search by searching on my own name. In the new search results, images are shown on a page in a way that makes them visually strong - this looks less a sparse collection of images, and more like a montage of big, bold pictures. Instead of pages of search results, you can scroll down the page to see more results. Moving the mouse over an image may zoom in on the image if it's not already shown at full size, and displays additional information about the picture. This was helpful when I tried to understand why there were pictures of herpes in my search results (one of the world's people named David Koelle is a medical doctor).

When you click on an image to go to the website on which it was found, Google places an overlay on the site that shades the original page and shows the image you were looking for in the middle. I found this to be an annoying extra step - my intention in clicking on the search result was to go to the original page, so why should I be presented with another instance of the image, that I then have to close so I can view the page? It would be better to have a small copy of the image in Google's right-hand pane, with a button to "Find image in page" that would automatically scroll to (and maybe highlight?) the image.

So, what about Bing? It turns out that Bing is just plain wrong. Doing a Bing Image Search for David Koelle doesn't show any of the people I know named David Koelle. I can't find my picture in the whole list, and the first actual David Koelle doesn't show up until about 100 pictures down - but it's the only accurate hit for another 100 or more pictures. Instead, I see a few images that I'm familiar with: the JFugue logo; a picture of PragPub magazine, in which I once co-wrote an article; a picture of Michael Swaine, the editor of PragPub. Otherwise, I don't recognize any of the returned images, and very few of them seem to fit my search criteria.

I'm surprised at how dependent I've become on certain Windows 7 user interface features, and how natural they are to understand and use:
  • Searching within the Start menu (How did I ever find things before?)
  • Aero Snap: Moving a window so it fills the left- or right-half of the screen (I only rarely did this by hand, but it now feels so necessary)
  • Dragging the title bar of a maximized application to minimize it and move it around (Really? I couldn't do this before?)
  • And I haven't even started using Aero Shake (click and shake one window's title bar, and all of the other open windows will minimize) or Aero Peek (makes your windows transparent so you can see your desktop)
When I move back to the Windows XP machine I have at work, the lack of these capabilities is really frustrating!

I came to realize that the way I navigated my Start menu (which, despite my valiant attempts at cleaning up, spans at least two columns) was my physical location as opposed to logic: "I know WinSCP is on the top half of the second column." This knowledge became organic: as I added new applications to my system - WinDirStat (which is awesome), Google Chrome, and so on - they were added to the end of the list, and I became familiar with their physical placement. But on my new Windows 7 machine, I've installed so much new software so quickly (e.g., Paint.NET, LMMS, Synthesia (which is awesome), Blender, Boxee) that it's difficult to build up that physical memory... not to mention, the Windows 7 Start menu limits itself to one scrolling column.

I've searched in vain for Windows XP add-ons that can give my old windows the same side-of-screen, drag-from-maximize, drag-and-shake interaction that I don't know how Windows users have lived without for the past (almost) 20 years. It's clear that Microsoft doesn't have a vested interest in back-porting changes like these, but I hope some third-party developer will come around and do it some day (not me... I've got other projects cooking).