Tired of Google's white homepage? Starting today the search giant is letting users customize its famously spartan home page with photos of their own or from a public gallery featuring the works of professional artists, by clicking a link on the bottom left corner. This is a major shift in the company's design philosophy. Google says the move is aimed at making the "search experience more relevant, useful and fun through personalization." It also makes them look a lot like Bing.
Microsoft's search engine has provided changing daily backgrounds since the service launched in May 2009. On the other hand, Google's approach to its home page has always been minimalistic, based on the notion that people want lightning-fast page loads and no distractions. These background images might remove that advantage by slowing things down a bit. Unfortunately, it seems there is no easy way of reverting to the original white background for now.
Feedback is mixed -- if not leaning towards negative. Some say this shows how Google has been feeling the heat from Microsoft's Bing search engine, while others have already "threatened" to switch providers. ZDNet's David Gewirtz also makes an interesting (albeit a tad exaggerated) point suggesting the change could have deeper consequences for the company, hurting its iconic image and confusing less-savvy users about the service they are using.
However, it seems the default Bing-like background image is just part of a 24-hour introduction of the feature, with backgrounds rotating on a random basis. Google's plain white search page is expected to return tomorrow, so they won't have to worry much about deflecting users and those who like the custom backgrounds feature can still make use of it.
Update: Amid a storm of criticism online, Google has decided to cut short its 24-hour experiment and stop loading the background image by default, leaving the option open to anyone who wants to use it.