Design

Two Excellent, Customisable Start Pages Worth Trying As iGoogle Replacements

Google may be shutting down the super-customisable iGoogle start page, but that doesn’t mean you’re stuck without your daily dose of news and other widgets. Here are two great alternatives to iGoogle that you can use as your new do-anything start page.

NetVibes Is A Super-Customisable Start Page For RSS Geeks

NetVibes has long been a popular portal for news, weather, email, and other customisable widgets, and it’s a good choice as an iGoogle replacement. As with iGoogle, you can choose from a myriad of different widgets, including weather, news, Gmail, Facebook and Twitter, stocks, a to-do list, and more blogs and RSS feeds than you can shake a stick at. It has a lot of specialised widgets for more popular sites, but you can also embed web pages and other objects into your page as well.

The Good: What makes NetVibes really cool is its customisability. You can create as many different tabs as you want, each with its own set of widgets, and each with its own movable layout. That means you can have up to four columns of widgets, some wide, some narrow, arranged in many different ways. It also has a stack of pre-made themes as well as the ability to create your own, so you can really customise how it looks. Plus, it’s an awesome RSS reader. You can exit the widgets view to go into a very Google Reader-like interface, so you don’t need to use a separate RSS reader if you don’t want to. It has everything you need.

The Bad: The main downside of NetVibes is that it can be a little difficult to use at times. Dragging widgets around isn’t nearly as easy as it should be, and sometimes creating new widgets from feeds can get a little frustrating. Moreover, some of the widgets can be downright ugly, especially if you’re creating your own from scratch (seriously, they look horrible). Its selection of widgets isn’t bad, though, so you’ll have to try it out to see if you can get by without having to deal with ugly ones.

Protopage Is An Attractive Start Page That’s Dead Simple To Use

Protopage is very similar to NetVibes: You have your own customisable page to which you can add widgets, create customisable tabs, and change themes to fit your desires. It has a number of built-in widgets, but most of the widgets you’ll create yourself by typing in a feed, connecting it to your email or social networking account, or creating one from a web page.

The Good: Protopage is significantly easier to use than NetVibes. Dragging widgets around is smooth as butter, and you can resize any individual widget to take up more than one column (unlike Netvibes, where you can only choose from a premade layout or resize entire columns at once). Creating new widgets is easy and intuitive, and feed widgets look much better than regular feed widgets on NetVibes. Anyone can get up and running with a good-looking page in minutes as it’s a bit more one-size-fits-all.

The Bad: Protopage is a bit more limited when it comes to its built-in widgets. Its list is pretty short, although most of them can cover your needs just as well as NetVibes’. For example, NetVibes has a dedicated widget for Gmail, Yahoo and other mail clients in which you just type in your credentials and go, whereas Protopage only has one mail widget that requires you to connect via IMAP. It takes a bit more work, but it works with everything. It also doesn’t have any specialised feeds for specific news sites like NetVibes does. You just type in the site and Protopage spits out a feed. The feed widget isn’t quite as customisable as the ones you’d get on NetVibes, but it is arguably much better looking.

It’s hard to say whether one service is better than the other since they each have their own advantages and disadvantages. On the whole, we’d recommend NetVibes to those of you that are willing to tinker a little bit longer with your page, and like the idea of switching between widget and feed reader mode. Protopage is a bit better if you want a simpler, but slightly less powerful page that looks good without a lot of work. They’re both worthy alternatives, and you don’t need to create an account for either until you actually want to save your settings — so go ahead and give both a shot. After all, you have until November 2013 before iGoogle kicks the bucket.