Google is finally shutting down the super-customisable iGoogle start page on November 1, but that doesn’t mean you’re stuck without your daily dose of news and other widgets. Here are five great alternatives to iGoogle that you can use as your new do-anything start page.
Picture: Fer Gregory
Note that there are a lot of different kinds of customisable start pages out there. For the purposes of this post, we’ll be focusing on the ones with widgets for things like news, weather and other information, just as iGoogle had. If you’re simply looking for a start page, there are a lot of other great options, including Myfav.es and Symbaloo.
My Yahoo Is a Beautiful, Easy Start Page
My Yahoo is my personal favourite of the bunch. Just like the awesome Yahoo Weather app, Yahoo has focused on making its start page attractive. You can choose from a number of themes, how many columns you want and what content to display. Yahoo’s Mail widget supports Gmail for all the Googlers out there.
The Good: Yahoo’s start page is the Feedly to iGoogle’s Google Reader. It may not be quite as feature-filled, but it will satisfy most people, and it looks a lot better. Yahoo’s made it easy to import all your iGoogle widgets and settings with just a few clicks. It starts you off with a handy wizard, and it has a lot of sites built in. We couldn’t find an option for importing your own RSS feed, but it had all the sites we wanted to add. It’s incredibly easy to add and search for content too.
The Bad: The lack of an RSS widget is annoying, and it doesn’t have a lot of configuration options (at least compared to the other sites in this list). News widgets only have the options of “full” or “compact”, and you can only choose how many columns exist on your page (from two to four), but not how they’re laid out. If you want something simple you can migrate to from iGoogle, My Yahoo is great and attractive, but it isn’t for those that like to configure every nook and cranny.
igHome Aims to Be Like iGoogle, but With More Customisation
We’ve mentionedigHome before, and it’s still one of the best options if you want something that works exactly like iGoogle did. It has a black bar just like Google did, a search box and a widget library that looks awfully similar. You can import from iGoogle, which is great for getting up and running right away.
The Good: If you want something reminiscent of the original iGoogle, igHome is a good choice. You can add RSS feeds or preconstructed gadgets from their very large and browseable library, add any background you want to the page, choose your search engine, customise the links in the black bar and more. In some ways, it’s more customisable than iGoogle ever was.
The Bad: igHome’s biggest annoyance is that you can configure the “format” of your RSS widgets, just like the others — compact or full — but your setting applies to all your widgets, not just one. The all-or-nothing approach is annoying since every other site on the list offers you options on a widget-by-widget basis. We also can’t find any way to create widgets of different widths, and a lot of the widgets just don’t work properly — you can set them to show images, but they won’t always do so. Some of the widgets are also ugly (like the AccuWeather widget).
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. While it’s a bit more focused for business-minded folks and news junkies, it has a lot of widgets to choose from, 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, if you want to embed something like Google Tasks. NetVibes probably has more pre-created, specialised widgets than any of the other options.
The Good: NetVibes is very customisable. 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 lot of pre-made themes as well as the ability to create your own, so you can really customise how it looks. Plus, it has a built-in 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’s definitely ideal for RSS junkies.
The Bad: The main downside of NetVibes is that it can be a little difficult to use at times and ugly if not done right. 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 awful, 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.
uStart Focuses on Interactive Widgets with Lots of Layout Options
uStart is similar to the others, but with a bit more of a focus on interactive widgets than just RSS feeds. I has widgets for Mail, Facebook, Delicious, Google Drive, Instagram, internet radio, tasks, notes and a lot more. It has a lot of options for how each one works, so you can make each widget your own. It can also import from iGoogle or NetVibes.
The Good: uStart has more widget options than most of its competitors. You can choose up to six different layouts for RSS widgets, along with how wide the widget is, how many news items show up, and whether to open it in its built-in RSS reader. Interactive widgets have a bunch of similar options depending on what they do. This is extremely nice and makes your layout pretty customisable based on how many columns you have, which widgets are wide and so on. You can also customise much of the theme, from the background to widget colour and background colour.
The Bad: uStart isn’t as good-looking as most of its competitors, and the top bar seems a little cluttered with no way to clean it up. It has a lot of great interactive widgets, but nothing like the library of igHome, so some users may feel a bit limited. Overall, it’s a start page with a lot to offer out of the gate, and it’s easy to set up.
Protopage Is an Easy to Use Page with a Free Form Layout
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 (again, like if you use Google Tasks).
The Good: Protopage is very easy to use. Dragging widgets around is smooth as butter, and it has a “free positioning” feature that lets you really customise how each widget is laid out across multiple columns. Feed widgets have a fair number of options, and you can resize them however you want. Anyone can get up and running with a good-looking page in minutes since it’s a bit more one-size-fits-all. You can, however, customise the theme to the nines, from the background to all the colours used.
The Bad: Protopage has a lot of layout options, but not a lot of widgets. Its list is pretty short, and most of the stuff you add will probably be from RSS feeds. The widgets are rarely specialised either. While some other services have a dedicated widget for Gmail, Yahoo and other mail clients, Protopage only has one mail widget that requires you to connect via IMAP. It takes a bit more work, but it works with everything. The feed widgets aren’t quite as customisable as some others, but they look good out of the gate.
It’s hard to say whether one service is better than the others, since they all have their own advantages and disadvantages. It’s so easy to try them out — usually without having to set up an account — that you can get a feel for them pretty quickly. Pick a few from this list that look good to you, try them out, and see how they work. We’re confident you’ll find one that fits most of your needs.