Google Background: Does Google Have Microsoft’s Bing Envy?

Last week, Google decided it was time to spruce things up a little and the company enabled an interesting feature: custom background images for its home search page. A rare event, because it was only the 8th time the homepage design had changed since the company started in 1998. Now the feature is available internationally, and […]

Google’s new Web site design looks very similar to that of Microsoft’s Bing search engine.

Last week, Google decided it was time to spruce things up a little and the company enabled an interesting feature: custom background images for its home search page. A rare event, because it was only the 8th time the homepage design had changed since the company started in 1998.

Now the feature is available internationally, and to highlight it, Google collaborated with several well-known artists who’ve created a gallery of background images that will be featured on the Google homepage over the next 24 hours.

Although Microsoft has not officially commented on the familiarity of the new design, which now sees a background picture appear behind the search box, some senior executives have referred to the new design on social networking sites.

“Imitation, however pale, is the sincerest form of flattery,” said Ashley Highfield, managing director of Microsoft’s consumer division in the UK, on his Twitter page. “A certain search engine has put up the same picture of tulip fields used on Bing long ago.”

As TechCrunch noted, someone updated a Twitter feed that apparently belongs to Microsoft’s European division with this message: “We’ve lost a background image, if found please return to bing.com ;).”

Microsoft’s Bing homepage, which features a different background photo every day, won plaudits from users and technology experts. Every picture featured provides a link through to a relevant search page, as well as “hot spots” that, when clicked on, provide additional information about the image.

Google rolled out the search personalisation feature in the UK this week, following an earlier successful launch in the United States. Users must have a Google account to adjust and personalise the background picture, which can be customised with a picture from a user’s own photo library on their computer or the photo-sharing service Picasa, or chosen from a public Picasa gallery.

Microsoft executives said they are 'flattered' by Google's new-look homepage, which features a background photo, just like MS's Bing.

Marissa Mayer, Google’s vice president of search products and user experience, wrote on the company’s blog that although Google announced the new feature last week, the abrupt change on Thursday was intended to provide Googlers “with an extra bit of inspiration.”

Ms. Mayer wrote: “We’ve collaborated with several well-known artists, sculptors and photographers to create a gallery of background images you can use to personalize your Google homepage. Included in the collection are photographs of the works of Dale Chihuly, Jeff Koons, Tom Otterness, Polly Apfelbaum, Kengo Kuma, Kwon, Ki-soo and Tord Boontje, as well as some incredible photos from Yann Arthus-Bertrand and National Geographic.”

The new look is a significant change for Google, which has always prided itself on its uncluttered homepage, with the search box front and centre. According to Google, the users who prefer the classic homepage can switch off the personalisation feature.

However, you can’t turn the background images off as simple, as Google says, — at least on certain Google search pages. Stan Schroeder at Mashable.com wrote: “When I open my localized Google search page — www.google.hr — I’m greeted by a colorful field of flowers. I can change the image by clicking on the link in the lower-left corner, but there’s no option to completely turn it off.”

If you are among hundreds of users – who are trying to find a way to get rid of the feature and restore Google’s traditional white background – here’re some tricks to do it, according to Mashable.com

For example, you can try clicking on this link or you can use Google SSL, which works pretty much the same as regular Google. You can also choose the color white as the background, available from Google’s editorial choice of images.

Update: According to the NY Times report, as of 2:30 p.m., Google has removed the experimental image on its site and returned the page to its original white background style. Google originally planned to feature the “backgrounds on the Google homepage over the next 24 hours.”

The sudden change is likely due to some user feedback on the change. Google Trends, which monitors current search queries on Google, showed the term “remove google background” as the 7th most popular search term in the US.

Update: Google updated its blog post to say that it had planned to post an explanation of the change on its homepage, but that this didn’t show up for most users because of a glitch.

“As a result, many people thought we had permanently changed our homepage, so we decided to stop today’s series early,” the post says. [Google Blog via Mashable and The Daily Telegraph (UK) and NY Times]

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