Also, I know from considerable experience that the plus operator had a distinct meaning from the quotes operator so this change definitely implies that Google queries will be less fine-grained no matter what quotes means now.
Yes, Google is worse and worse for anything technical.
Not an alternative, but BlindSearch (http://blindsearch.fejus.com/) is interesting.
I intend to give it a shot. Seems there's some reasonably powerful query syntax: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ff795667.aspx.
Some of those other operators look promising, though. I'll have to try them out.
It doesn't work with Google Instant enabled.
May need improvements!