A9's main screen is deceptively simple: just a search box surrounded by a handful of help and login links, with four buttons in the right-hand column: Your History, Your Bookmarks, Discover, and Your Diary. Type in any search term, and along with the standard Web results, you'll also get a few more right-hand buttons: Images, Movies, Books, and Reference. If you click, say, the Images button, an image-results column appears next to your Web results. Click Reference, and A9 populates a third column with a potpourri of info, ranging from biographical notes (for people searches) to geographical info, dictionary and encyclopedia entries, and even translations. Want more? A9 lets you add unique searches from NYTimes.com, BritishLibrary, ThinkGeek, Wikipedia, Yellow Pages, AccuWeather, About.com, InfoWorld, and more. Are all those columns getting crowded? Just click a button to close a column, or click and drag the side of a column to enlarge or reduce its size.
A9's Google-enhanced Web search results are among the most comprehensive we've seen in a non-Google search engine site. Just below the well-marked sponsored results are links to the latest news on your search. Main results include a link, a brief description, links to cached versions of the page, and a small Site Info icon, detailing the number of sites that link to it, as well as the site's traffic rank, site speed, launch date, and more. Searches within the Image column return thumbnails but no information regarding file size, dimensions, or URL (unless you click through to a secondary image page). Nor can you sort by image size. Book and movie searches tap into Amazon and Amazon-owned IMDB.com, while the Yellow Pages tab acts as your local area search, with city maps, user reviews, and driving directions. Conspicuously absent are multimedia and people searches.
A9 boasts several powerful extras, including saved search histories (which can be edited or deleted), Web bookmarks (so you can access your favorite sites from any computer), a diary that functions like your own A9-hosted blog, and a Discover section that analyzes your past search habits and recommends related Web sites and categories. This latter feature is supplied by Alexa, an Amazon-owned company that monitors your surfing habits to gather traffic information about other sites. Creeped out by A9's saved search histories and Alexa's surfing analysis? A9 swears it keeps your search info private, but you can always visit its nontracking "generic" site instead. Or you can simply not log in to Amazon or A9. A9's downloadable toolbar (compatible with IE, Firefox, Mozilla, and Netscape) provides browser-based access to your search history, bookmarks, and diary from your browser, but it won't block pop-ups--a solid feature we've come to expect in other search toolbars. A9's help section doesn't provide detailed search examples, but it includes a basic FAQ for those new to the site.