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Google exhibits Bing envy with background-photo binge

Google's home page looks a little different today--and not in a fun, productivity-destroying way.


Instead of a playable version of Pac-Man, the page is graced by a randomly chosen artsy background photo--part of a one-day feature Google is running to promote a new custom-background option that registered users can set for that page.

Users of Microsoft's Bing search engine should find the concept all too familiar--its artsy background photo, new every day, serves as a pleasant bonus feature. Microsoft employees did not miss the chance to have some fun with Google's form of flattery; one Twittered that "We've lost a background image, if found please return to ;)"

(It's too bad Microsoft didn't think to make Bing's homepage a blank white expanse for today.)

Many Google users sound displeased with the new window dressing--displeased in a way that makes you wonder how they'd react if, say, Google treated itself to dinner on their credit cards or ran over their pets. One irate individual e-mailed that she was "absolutely furious" for "forcing us to open a Google account to change or get rid of it!!" Fortunately, you don't have to do that. The ever-useful blog Lifehacker posted this simple workaround:

Hit the "Change Background Image" link in the lower-left, head to the "Editor's Picks" section, then scroll to the bottom to find the familiar, entirely white "theme."

Other people have suggested a different fix: Typing instead of the usual "" address, which will not only serve up the traditional blank home page but also encrypt your searches.

I don't mind today's Google page--but I'm so used to running Google searches through browser search boxes that I only visit that site's home page when there's some visual treat waiting. If you feel otherwise, let me know in the comments.

Update, 2:02 p.m.: And suddenly the background photos have vanished. Can I claim responsibility for making them go away?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  June 10, 2010; 11:57 AM ET
Categories:  Digital culture , Search , The Web  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: AT&T's iPad data breach: Don't panic
Next: Adobe updates Flash Player to 10.1 but preserves old reasons to hate Flash


I've been seeing comments about this on every news site that I've visited today and If I'd seen the change I'd say so what? However, I've been to google many times troday on four different computers and I've seen no change. Is it me or did they drop it?

Posted by: ancientdude | June 10, 2010 2:08 PM | Report abuse

I discovered it last week...I like it and I think it's cool. I chose an editor pick of some kinda rock scape. Mine is still on. On the lower left of the page I have a "remove background image" button to go back to a white page default. I have a Google account, same for both computers. When I made the image change last week it was applied to both computers.

Posted by: tbva | June 10, 2010 2:18 PM | Report abuse

It was driving me bats this morning. I use Google search as my home page for the reason that it is spare, and loads quickly. If they had set it up so you could run "norma", I'd have been fine, but even that Lifehacker "fix" left you with lovely white text on white background - not the prettiest look.

Apparently they meant to turn this on with an explanation, but somehow missed the explanation part? Whatever, I'm just happy that they turned it back off and made it optional again.

Posted by: doog | June 10, 2010 4:47 PM | Report abuse

Very dumb idea. I am an IT pro who spends his days (and nights) doing remote desktop work on other people's systems, and every extra bit that has to be transferred slows me down.

I can't tell you how many times I've remoted to a client with MSN or Yahoo as their home page, and then spewed silent expletives waiting for the ads and Flash junk to finish. Step one is always to switch their home page to Google.Com.

Please, oh please, mighty Google gods, keep your home page clean.

Jay Converse
Fairfax, VA

Posted by: jayconverse | June 10, 2010 6:09 PM | Report abuse

No, I made them go away. It took me 1/2 hour of searching to find the address, but I finally did. About an hour later it was gone, so Windows 7... wait, I mean Google home page... is mine

Posted by: maxinea | June 10, 2010 6:38 PM | Report abuse

I still use as my start up page. It's plain, and that's why I like it. I can easily access my Gmail acct on the link above the Google Logo, as well as maps, and what not.

When I noticed the change, I found the change image link. I did. When changing it to "white", the txt of "Google" stayed the same light/white-ish color, and it was just a white page. Eventually I settled with gray. I bit ugly, but I'd prefer gray over a picture - that is the type of person I am. That is why I do not use iGoogle, bing, yahoo, etc, I like seeing plain, nothing flashing when I start my internet day.

I'm glad they made it so you can go back to classic, while at the same time be able to change the background to an image that pleases one self.

As for the people who had a heart attack over it, it's best to always express yourself, but come on people - we saw this style of anger during the health care debate, ...blind, unfocused, threat-ful anger - rage. Is it really Google that has you enraged or could it be something more direct in your life...with that said, no wonder pharmaceuticals sell so well!

Posted by: Ian5672 | June 10, 2010 9:32 PM | Report abuse

One reason this got such a bad reaction is that Google has been pulling crap like this for weeks. Google News got an annoying real estate consuming sidebar, pac man blasting with annoying audio... this background thing with those insipid and mediocre images was the last straw.

For those that liked what Google tried to pull I have two words: Bing, Yahoo.

I hope Google gets the message -if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Posted by: plaza04433 | June 10, 2010 9:57 PM | Report abuse

I cannot imagine anyone complaining about the Google background pictures other than people who complain about everything.

Posted by: query0 | June 10, 2010 11:20 PM | Report abuse

The new background wasn't bad, although I was puzzled why it happened until I read this article. Whether it was a coincidence or whatever, my computer shut-down and was prompted to re-boot for repairs that took about 5 minutes or so to get it back on track again. Whether Google software was responsible for it or not, I'm not sure.

Posted by: draw984 | June 10, 2010 11:57 PM | Report abuse

The reason for the annoyance is that they want you to stay logged in to Google, which facilitates their tracking of your web use.

Keep it simple. Oh, thanks for the tip.

Posted by: thebobbob | June 11, 2010 1:26 AM | Report abuse

I tried this: Typing instead of the usual "" address

and it didn't work.

Of course, I live in Hong Kong, and Google is always trying to MISdirect my traffic ... if I wanted the HK Google page, that's what I would type in. Apparently, Google has no respect for the intelligence of its users.

Posted by: bibleburner | June 11, 2010 1:42 AM | Report abuse

seriously, get over it.

Posted by: iamrta | June 11, 2010 1:57 AM | Report abuse

I like it. I find the photos they chose striking.

I would prefer they just randomly chose one of their photos when I went to Google, rather than have me choose just one.

Posted by: HoosierFavoriteCommenter | June 11, 2010 6:28 AM | Report abuse

Let's face it, Google has jumped the shark.

Posted by: BonTemps | June 11, 2010 7:07 AM | Report abuse

"Typing instead of the usual "" address, which will not only serve up the traditional blank home page but also encrypt your searches."

I tried this and it didn't work. Are you sure you know what you're talking about? You're certainly no Walt Mossberg.

Posted by: bibleburner | June 11, 2010 7:49 AM | Report abuse

Bing my look nice, but it takes four searches to find information.

At least Google generally gets you to the right spot the first time.

Posted by: johnnyapplewhite123 | June 11, 2010 8:00 AM | Report abuse

The photos are of the finest kind with a large selection...such an improvement...thanks Google.

Posted by: owlafaye | June 11, 2010 9:15 AM | Report abuse

What was annoying about this change to Google's homepage is that a) there was no way to turn it off and b) the change was a marketing ploy that funneled people into signing up for a Google account.

Yes, one could select the "white" theme that most closely resembled a normal Google page, but this still did not allow one to opt out entirely from the background image change. Had Google offered a quick, easy option to shut off the background image, then I doubt they would have gotten so many complaints.

As it is, the background lasted barely 12 hours instead of a full day, probably because Google saw in real time the number of people aborting their page for Yahoo search. Yes, some people like Bing's homepage, but anybody who has stuck with Google generally does not. The only place where Bing's search results are more useful is in video, where videos can preview and often play directly from the Bing page without having to navigate to a new site. Otherwise, Google generally still gives better search results, and their page is not a huge distraction...except yesterday.

Not sure who the marketing genius was who planned this stunt out, but the person should be demoted or fired. All it did was to make Google look like an imitator instead of an innovator. Google has played the part of innovator, with Microsoft playing catch-up, for a couple years at least, and for Google to suddenly and so publicly express Bing-envy was shameful. The background photo stunt more or less just established Bing as the leader in search pages, which, even if untrue, is not the image that Google ought to be projecting.

Posted by: blert | June 11, 2010 12:51 PM | Report abuse

Google reminds me of that old Twilight Zone episode "To Serve Man"

If you don't know the reference, google it.

Posted by: kkrimmer | June 11, 2010 1:16 PM | Report abuse

I hate when free stuff isn't exactly the way I want it. Wah!

Posted by: Wallenstein | June 11, 2010 3:24 PM | Report abuse

It's absurd spending time to talk about cosmetic stuff as if nothing else more interesting...

Posted by: knowledgenotebook | June 11, 2010 4:34 PM | Report abuse

Something should be done about television stations that display time and temperature, station logos and pop-ups too...

Posted by: edmundsingleton1 | June 12, 2010 5:04 AM | Report abuse

Google has formed their reputation on being efficient: minimal bandwidth to load their page, a simple search box, quick query results. What made users so angry was the lack of self-respect and self-identity google was displaying as they grab all the screen real estate unexpectedly.

As others point out, the service is free, and google can assume any identity they desire. Yet, there is a sense of loss as they ruin their reputation and service, not unlike how a parent might feel if their college kid wrote to say they decided to blow off final exams.

I think I speak for a lot of computer users, especially those here, who find themselves easily distracted and have OCD. We want to focus, not be bombarded with flashing links to soccer game scores we did not request.

Posted by: pptcmember | June 13, 2010 10:05 PM | Report abuse

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