Powerful new tools let you search for free software and music, zoom in on landmarks and buildings, and add comments to news stories.

Hacking with Google

I don't know what Google was thinking when it allowed Google Hacks to be posted on the Google Code site. But it's a sure bet most people won't abide by the "Please do not use this program for illegal uses" disclaimer you'll find.

Google Hacks is a front-end graphical user interface (GUI) you can use as a stand-alone application or as a browser toolbar. It performs searches you can already do - if you know the syntax. For instance, if I wanted to search for Dave Brubeck, I could pop the following into Google's search field:

-inurl:(htm|html|php) intitle:"index of" +"last modified" +"parent directory" +description +size +(.mp3|.wma) "Dave Brubeck"

But it's obviously a heck of a lot easier to type Dave Brubeck into Google Hacks and choose the music category.

Google Hacks lets you search in any one of 12 categories - music, applications, video, books, lyrics and others. But there's a catch. The searches are indexes - website directories that haven't been protected. Translation: you have to sort through lists of files and some, if not most, could be unrelated to what you're searching for.

At the same time, you might hit the jackpot - loads of files with just the content you're looking for. The showstopper is that the content belongs to someone else who doesn't know how to hide it from prying eyes. (And yes, I know, that person may have downloaded the music illegally as well.)

BTW, credit for this masterpiece goes to Jason Stallings, the author of Google Hacks. Jason doesn't work for Google, but his program was released using Google's free code hosting service. You can find more of Jason's code on his website.

Microsoft Photosynth

Microsoft's entry into the mobile phone arena is sure to give Apple a run for the money - and promises to take the nerd world by storm.

Microsoft's Photosynth is awesome - and addictive. You can travel to Rome, zoom in on St Peter's Basilica, and see details - and I mean close, close up - that I guarantee will amaze you. (The hardware requirements are stringent - more in a sec.) Don't believe me? Watch this 7-minute Photosynth demonstration.

But wait a minute: unless you have a heavy-duty PC - you need Windows XP and the hardware needs to be Vista ready - save your time. You just won't be able to use Photosynth. If you have the system requirements, you'll also need to download a small ActiveX plug-in available at the Photosynth site.

Up and running

Photosynth is now up and running.

Once you've finished killing time at the default spot, St. Peter's Basilica, head for the rest of the collection. My favourites? Grassi Lakes (did you spot any trout?) and the NASA collection.

Microsoft Live Labs has the story behind Photosynth, including three videos of the amazing imaging techniques they're working on.

Google News: have your say

The Google News blog recently announced an experimental - and very welcome - addition to the news service. If you or your company is quoted, or even just mentioned, in a story indexed on Google News, you can have your say.

Once Google verifies you're really the person or organisation in the story, your comments are posted online.

Note to every PR flak I've worked with in the past 20 years: be gentle, will you?