Personalised start pages -- also known as Web desktops, Ajax desktops, customisable portals and metagators -- have been kicking around for several years, but recent improvements in looks and functionality have resulted in a heap of competitors vying for the right to be your homepage.
If you're not familiar with the enticing world of start pages, here's a quick run-down. These services, which include the likes of Netvibes, Pageflakes, Microsoft's Live.com and iGoogle, have two main components: feeds and widgets. Feeds allow you to view content from a heap of different Web sites on one page by subscribing to the sites through RSS. Widgets are interactive apps that do everything from monitoring your eBay auctions to converting currency.
From top: Live.com, Pageflakes, iGoogle and Netvibes
The convenience factor is the main appeal of start pages -- instead of visiting 10 sites every morning, you just load your browser -- but recent releases of Netvibes and Pageflakes have introduced a comprehensive community aspect. In a similar way to social sites like Twitter and Facebook, you can create a profile, add contacts and then follow their pages and activities.
What start page do I choose?
Ready to sign up and revolutionise your Web habits? Great stuff! The first choice to make is which service to use, and that's what this article is all about. We put four sites -- the aforementioned Netvibes, Pageflakes, Live.com and iGoogle -- through stringent testing according to the three Cs: content, customisation and community. Though all share the same key features and appearance, there were big differences in how they performed. Read on to find out which Web desktop is right for you.
A few points to note before we get into it:
- Wondering why we haven't included My Yahoo? Granted, it's also a start page service, but it does not allow developers to create and share their own widgets. Due to this limitation, we haven't featured it in the round-up.
- For Netvibes, we are referring to the Ginger release, which is still in Beta. Many of the remarks we make also apply to the current public release (Coriander), with the main difference being in community features. We're expecting to see the full release of Ginger any day now, so there's not long to wait.