There's no place like home page: 8 iGoogle alternatives

If you're an iGoogle user, here are 8 alternatives, some of which are just as good -- and one or two of which are better.

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Symbaloo

Tiles. Symabloo has more tiles than a hardware-store remodeling aisle. Colorful bookmark icons span a 10 x 6 grid, with a dynamic window embedded in the middle. Some of those bookmarks (Expedia, Facebook, Netflix, etc.) pop open in new tabs, while others (Google, encyclopedia, CNN's RSS feed) generate a search bar or information listing in that window.

Symbaloo
Symbaloo

Clearly, this is not your father's Web portal. Symbaloo departs from iGoogle in radical, albeit pleasing, style, putting bookmarks at the fore. The default setup uses colors to differentiate one section from another, but also leaves blank, dark-gray tiles as dividers. You can fill these with your own bookmarks if you wish, and of course you can also change existing tiles and create entirely new tabbed pages with all your own bookmarks.

It's cool the way you can mix search tools and information tools with straight-up bookmarks. For example, clicking Translate provides an abbreviated Google Translate tool in the center window, thus saving you a trip to another tab, at least initially (the results do appear in a new tab).

However, Symbaloo overcomplicates things with its "Webmixes," which are weird sub-collections of topic-specific tiles and/or RSS feeds. For example, click the preloaded News tab and you get a scattered collection of thumbnail images, mostly of unrecognizable faces. Mouse over one and you get a Yahoo News summary of the related story. It's just not a practical way to parse news.

Meanwhile, the Webmix Collection tab can take you to sub-tabs for topics like "Fastest cars" and "iPhone apps," but again, these are just strange, hard-to-navigate tile collections that offer little practical value.

Bottom line

As a basic launching point for your favorite bookmarks and search tools, Symbaloo has its merits. But steer clear of Webmixes, which are confusing and largely pointless.

uStart.org

At first blush, uStart.org could be mistaken for iGoogle's prettier sister. Drop-shadowed windows sit atop lovely customizable wallpaper, each window filled with news, tasks, bookmarks, notes and the usual assortment of widget-y portal goodness. Add more widgets, splay them across more tabs, and organize everything just by dragging and dropping -- uStart covers all the basics.

uStart
uStart

However, certain aspects of the site need improvement, while others are just plain broken. The omnipresent search bar, for example, ties only to Google; it doesn't give you the option to search, say, Bing, Wikipedia or Yahoo. Search results do automatically appear in a new tab, however, which is convenient.

The bigger issue is that uStart's tabs don't seem to work. You get three to start: Home, More and RSS Reader. A numeric counter embedded next to each title shows how many unread stories are contained within each tab. Mouse over a story, a pop-up summary appears, the headline gets grayed out, and the counter drops by one. That's pretty neat, except that not all the news widgets work that way. In some cases you have a click a story -- which opens it in a new tab -- to mark it as read. Mousing over those stories does nothing.

Furthermore, on a regular basis in my tests, my tabs would get "stuck." I'd click another tab, but nothing would change; the content would stay on the currently selected tab. Only refreshing the entire site fixed the issue.

And the RSS Reader tab arrives empty. When you click "Customize your page" and select an RSS feed, it gets added to the Home tab, with no discernible way to move it. I initially thought these issues were confined to Google Chrome, but I encountered them in Internet Explorer as well.

Bottom line

uStart has promise, but for now it's too buggy to recommend.

Conclusion

Needless to say, there are plenty of iGoogle alternatives, many of them superior to the original. That said, it's hard to pick an outright winner, if only because different users have different ideas as to what makes an ideal home page.

Fortunately, there's something here for everyone, from iGoogle clones (igHome, iGooglePortal) to bookmark managers (StartMe, Startific) to portals that sort of straddle the line (Netvibes, Protopage). A couple (Symbaloo, uStart) need a bit of tweaking. Of course, because they're all free, you have nothing to lose by test-driving each and every one.

That said, the real standouts here are the blissfully simplistic StartMe; the sexy, souped-up Netvibes; the solid, useable Protopage; and the Android-influenced Startific. Any one of these would make for a practical portal.

Rick Broida has written about technology for nearly 25 years. He pens the popular Cheapskate blog and writes for Computerworld, PC World, Popular Science and Wired.

This article, There's no place like home page: 8 iGoogle alternatives, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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