Goodbye, iGoogle. As of November 1, Google's Web portal ceases to exist, leaving untold legions of users with no place to call home page. For anyone accustomed to being greeted by personalized news, RSS feeds, Twitter updates and other quick-scan info, this could be a jarring day.
Google's decision raises an interesting question: Do you really need a traditional home page anymore? Many users are content to start with a Bing or Google search page, or use their browser's "frequently visited" thumbnails as a jumping-off point. And business users are often pushed directly to their company's home page or another work-related site. Maybe the portal's day is done.
Still, old habits die hard and many users may find Web portals too useful to give up. And just because Google no longer offers a customized start screen doesn't mean you can't have one. There are plenty of alternatives -- some that almost perfectly recreate the iGoogle experience and others that offer a wholly different take on the personalized portal.
If you don't want to spend a lot of time adapting to a new layout, igHome offers a personalized home page that's almost an exact replica of early iGoogle.
For starters, it perfectly recreates the portal's upper toolbar, providing handy one-click access to Gmail, Google Calendar, Docs, YouTube and other services. Of course, there's a prominently displayed Google search bar as well.
But it's in the meat of the page that igHome really resembles its predecessor. By default, its grid-like collection of information windows, or widgets, gives you news, weather, ESPN and other basics, but you can customize that with hundreds of sources across dozens of categories: shopping, politics, gaming, health and even comics. For news junkies, igHome offers headline widgets from cities and countries around the world.
Indeed, the big appeal here, as with iGoogle, is the ability to create a customized layout of RSS feeds and information widgets by dragging and dropping windows. The site supports tabs, so you can create separate pages of work-related news, RSS feeds, social media, fun stuff or whatever. And if you export your settings from iGoogle today, before the Nov. 1 cutoff, igHome can import them to expedite your setup.
It also offers plenty of interface tweaks, including your choice of themed wallpapers. These are worth inspection, as the site looks fairly drab without one. In fact, at first blush it's downright blah. But with a little work, you can closely recreate what you left behind at iGoogle.
If you want to reconstruct your iGoogle page, igHome can do it -- though it's worth checking out some of the other alternatives, which may just sway you from this old-fashioned format.
Another iGoogle doppelganger, iGoogle Portal, gives you a custom selection of information widgets and RSS feeds, then lets you organize them as you see fit. In some ways it's better than igHome, though it also has a few shortcomings.
To begin with, iGoogle Portal (iGP) looks a bit cleaner and more appealing than igHome, and offers a lot more layout options. You can configure nearly any number of columns, and they needn't all be the same width: iGP offers nine page templates, some mixing page-width widgets with column-width ones for a varied look. The site also offers tabbed pages, but not just for widgets; you can also devote a tab to a specific website, a neat way to integrate favorites into your portal. And you can adorn each tab with a colorful little icon, a nice visual touch.
iGP offers a huge selection of widgets across all the major categories (news, finance, technology, etc.), and it's a simple matter to add an RSS feed, share a page with others or even password-protect your portal. However, iGP lacks igHome's convenient Google-services toolbar, and in my testing, layout changes (such as the number of columns) didn't always seem to apply correctly. Also, it failed to properly import my iGoogle settings, displaying only one of the widgets I'd configured there.