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How Google Works


Google Tools
Image ©Google Earth mapping service/NASA/TerraMetrics 2007 The Google Earth application

Google offers a popular tool called Google Maps, an online mapping service similar to MapQuest. Google uses map sources from companies like NAVTEQ and TeleAtlas, as well as satellite data from DigitalGlobe and MDA Federal, to create interactive maps. You can use Google maps to view an address' location or get driving directions to a particular destination.

Google Maps has several view modes. The map view is a basic road map, satellite view overlays a road map on top of satellite photos of the region, terrain view creates a topographic map with a road map overlay, and the traffic view uses red, yellow and green to indicate congested major roadways in the area. Street view mode is available in several U.S. cities. Selecting street view in such locations as Orlando, Fla., gives you the option to view photos taken from street level. You can navigate through the city by clicking on arrows in the photographs, and you can rotate your view 360 degrees.

Google Maps can also integrate business information. You can use Google Maps like a search engine to find a business, such as "HowStuffWorks, Atlanta, Ga.," which will show you our office's location. You can also search for general businesses. If you're in the mood to eat sushi in San Francisco, Calif., you can type "sushi, San Francisco," and with a click of the Search button, Google Maps will display a map of the city with several sushi restaurants tagged.

A product related to Google Maps is Google Earth, an interactive digital globe. It uses the same satellite images licensed for Google Maps, but you must download the application and install it on your computer to access all of its functions. Google Earth requires an Internet connection to be fully functional, though you can still view locations on the globe even if you aren't connected. A scaled-back, Web-based version is also available -- you can even embed it in existing Web sites. To learn more about this program, read "How Google Earth Works."

The Google Toolbar is another handy add-on available for Firefox or Internet Explorer users. The toolbar has customizable buttons. Each button maps to a particular function, which can include anything from viewing a Web site's PageRank to translating a word from one language to another.

The Google Desktop application
The Google Desktop application
Screenshot by HowStuffWorks 2008

Google Desktop is another application you can download for free. This program lets you search your computer the way you would search the Internet using the Google search engine. You can also choose to download Google Gadgets, computer programs that integrate seamlessly into your desktop. Each gadget does something different. Gadgets include clocks, calendars, news feeds and weather reports.

In the next section, we'll look at some of the ways Google generates revenue.