Yahoo, with all its corporate trials and tribulations, desperately has needed to make some sort of product and/or service news, if not just to change the subject from Scott Thompson, stock prices, talk of irrelevancy and shareholder lawsuits. And so it has with the release of its new browser, Axis.
Of course, one knows there are plenty of skeptics out there thinking: "Now THAT's exactly what Yahoo needs to do: Compete head-on with two of the most successful IT companies in the world (Google, Microsoft) in the browser business, for goodness sake. Couldn't they maybe have come up with a new smartphone or tablet or something?"
Yahoo, not having a lot of experience in the hardware business, probably was not going to go the device route. So the company had some meetings, did some R&D and came up with the idea of a new-generation Web browser. And why not? There hasn't been a lot of innovation in that sector for at least five years.
So they named it Axis (a play on words with "access"), and it is now freely downloadable at the iTunes App Store. Axis App runs on iOS devices (no Android at thie time) and as a desktop plug-in for HTML5-enabled browsers. It runs as a plug-in to Mozilla Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chrome or Safari, Opera or any others.
Axis is a much more visual browser than the conventionals. Instead of a link, a date and a couple of teaser lines on a search result, you get a small snapshot graphic of a corner of the actual Web page with the article or graphic for which you searched.
The characteristic users will need to get used to is that Axis follows you around on the Web with a little widget at the lower left of your browser screen. It may be annoying at first, until you understand the functionality.
Axis' search function allows the user to do a search without leaving the current Web page. When you click on the search line in the widget, half your browser screen then goes over to Axis, where you will see the Yahoo home page. If you had a keyword or other search query, the search function will anticipate what you might be looking for and give you some options.
Then, instead of those links, dates and two-line descriptions to which we have become accustomed, you will see boxes containing articles -- right on the Web pages themselves -- that might interest you. You simply click and drag across the page to see more results, instead of moving to a second, third of fourth Web page (although research has shown that users rarely go more than one page in a Google search, for example).
Your search results are saved on Yahoos servers, so Axis enables users to move across devices without losing a step. All you need to do is click on "Continue from Device," for example, if you are working on an iPad or desktop and want to work later from an iPhone without losing your search results.
You can establish a home page and set favorites easily using Axis.
After signing in with Yahoo, Google or Facebook credentials, Axis centralizes Web browsing with a customizable home page that provides direct access to favorite sites, saved articles and bookmarks across all devices where Axis has been downloaded.
Axis does offer a new browsing experience, that much is certain. It will take a little getting used to, but a good number of people will undoubtedly find it a better way to use the Web.
The main thing at this point, however, is this: It still isn't Google Search. Once Yahoo gets something closer to that, it will be much better.
For now, there is a new alternative to try out.
Chris Preimesberger is eWEEK Editor for Features and Analysis. Twitter: @editingwhiz