Update: The image is gone and as of mid-afternoon on Thursday, Google is back to being plain ol' Google. Fascinating.
I've known about Google's plans to host a background image on its home page for quite some time. I generally ignored it, because one of my favorite things about Google is how simple the page is, and how quickly it loads.
I know, of course, that lots of people like to decorate and, so, lots of users are undoubtedly going to add pictures to their Google search page.
But a lot of us, given the option, won't. Unfortunately, it's not clear we'll be given the option. Right now, you can't turn off the butt-ugly background image Google is providing.
Separate from aesthetic preferences, this image slows things down. Google has repeatedly said that one of its key strategic advantages has been its lightning-fast page loads. These images remove that advantage.
If you're doing remote access, they really remove the advantage, but even for a regular user, the image load adds a perceptible delay.
To many people, Google is the white page with the funny logo. If Google now looks more like Bing, will users cease to differentiate the two as clearly? Will the delay in page loading, combined with the loss of its iconic image serve to distract and confuse users enough that they now share their search love among other engines?
Lifehacker claims you can turn off the ugly image, but that's not really true. Yes, you can make the background white, but then everything's white, with just hints of shadows around the lettering. It's just not the same.
I honestly think such a substantial modification to something as deeply iconic as their home page could have far-reaching and potentially expensive consequences to the company.
The easy answer is for Google to turn this feature off or simply make it optional.
See also: How I got suckered into "Going Bing" for a week