After more than eight years of arranging the most important Web content in your life into one tidy page, iGoogle will shut down on November 1 forever. Like Wave, Reader and Buzz before it, iGoogle will detonate on cue, leaving the once-unified fragments of your life scattered in the wind like an exploded Trapper Keeper.
What will greet your bleary eyes when you power on your computer in the morning? How will you see your email, weather and news headlines without opening three browser tabs? What will distract you with pretty pictures from far-flung corners of the world you’ll never visit?
As it turns out, iGoogle was far from the first personalized Web dashboard, and it’s far from the last. We tested a few of the most popular alternatives to find out which offers the best lifeboat as iGoogle sinks beneath the waves.
This unapologetic iGoogle imposter is the best bet for devotees looking to minimize the learning curve of something new. It’s set up just like iGoogle, right down to a bar full of links to Google services up top. But it’s not perfect. Many of the “gadgets” you can populate your page with feel cobbled together and don’t work as smoothly – or look as good – as the iGoogle equivalents. The Weather.com gadget, for instance, only gives you a one-day forecast with a ton of wasted space. Even the Gmail gadget was difficult to set up and eventually broke on us.
The clean translucent gadgets and milky pastel backgrounds of Yahoo’s iGoogle competitor might make you think you’ve left the desktop entirely and stepped into iOS 7 – which makes it the prettiest option on this list, as far as we’re concerned. Unfortunately, this tightly controlled aesthetic also seems to leave it with fewer apps. There’s only one weather option, for example, and you can’t configure it to show radar. Yahoo is also making an attempt to convert Google refugees with the Yahoo gospel here, not just accommodate them. Your familiar top links all direct to Yahoo services (like Flickr) now, and you won’t find gadgets to add Google services, besides Gmail. Most painfully, that all-important search bar now takes you straight to Yahoo results powered by Bing, which is like taking a swig of water only to find out it’s hot milk.
One of the most powerful dashboards out there differentiates itself by splitting your view into two panes: one for widgets, and one for news feeds. The sheer number of options can make Netvibes intimidating, but it helps ease the pain of setup with a number of preconfigured dashes set up for different purposes, like following tech news or staying in touch on social media. There’s even a “refugee” template for people migrating from iGoogle. Plentiful options for customization also mean you can tweak the look of your dash just to your liking, even if it won’t be quite as attractive as My Yahoo.
The MSN name is poison to anyone with the good sense to have moved on to Google, and it should remain that way. MyMSN is ugly, slathered in rainbow butterflies, and tailored only to display content from Microsoft and its partners. It even lacks basic features like using a photo as a background rather than vanilla white. As if you needed one more reason to dismiss it, MyMSN won’t even allow you to setup your Gmail account.
Protopage’s open platform means third-party developers can add their own widgets, but unfortunately, it suffers from the same issue as igHome: Most of them are absolutely hideous, and organization makes finding what you want a challenge. After adding enough widgets, the site looks Windows 3.1 crawled into your Chrome window and fell asleep for 10 years. It also seemed like the slowest of the services we tried – probably because the servers are located in the UK.
Much like Protopage, MyWay looks like it was coded by high-school dropouts who cut their teeth on GeoCities pages, and meant to be displayed in Netscape Navigator. It’s also entirely lacking in apps and cannot display your Gmail, making it the only option worse than MyMSN. However, it’s also extremely quick loading, so if you’re in a hurry and nostalgic for 1998, don’t dismiss it entirely. (Actually you probably should.)
Symbaloo caters to visual types with a giant grid of icons organized around a larger center tile. Rather than overloading you with a sprawling page packed with dense text, you click on an icon and it will change the center tile to display information, whether that’s your horoscope or a price comparison tool. While it looks prettier than your average dashboard, it also defeats the “everything at a glance” approach that makes dashboards so useful to begin with.
The option to import settings from iGoogle makes Ustart a tempting option for fleeing iGooglers, but in practice it doesn’t work well: The only widget that transferred over successfully for us was a box of stock quotes. Unlike igHome, it’s also missing the familiar top bar of Google links. That said, we think its the best looking of the iGoogle lookalikes thanks to clean lines and a minimalistic design ethos. Too bad you can’t ditch the ugly Ustart logo in the upper left. And don’t go looking for any clever apps; Ustart serves up just the basics like weather, stocks and Facebook.
ANTP is actually a Chrome extension, which means you’ll need to install it (and every widget for it) in your browser, rather than merely visiting a site. That’s fine if you use the same computer all the time, but you’ll be lost as soon as you find yourself hopping from your desktop to laptop, or a work computer. We also found it prone to crashes when we used it, and the process of adding widgets isn’t as easy as with other dashes. Unless you’re smitten with the – admittedly lovely – interface, a Web-based dash makes more sense.