Google Worried About Microsoft's Browser Advantage? What Advantage?

I was off yesterday (it was a holiday in England), so I merrily missed the fireworks over Google's objections to Microsoft's plans for search in Internet Explorer 7. Nevertheless, a few calls from reporters penetrated my holiday bubble, and I added a brief note with my thoughts below Barry's post about the news. But today, I wanted to more formally revisit the issue. In short, I find Google's concerns pretty overblown, somewhat hypocritical and most important, worry over something that's not likely going to hurt them.

I am nauseatingly exhausted by idea that Microsoft will conjure up some magical method of yanking people into its MSN Windows Live Whatever You Want To Call It search service via the Windows operating system or the Internet Explorer browser. Microsoft has failed for years to be successful in this, which is why it's amazing anyone would still believe it.

In the longer version of this post for Search Engine Watch members, I revisit the tired facts in more depth:

  • How search has been integrated into Windows and Internet Explorer since 1996 but failed to help Microsoft.
  • How even when MSN Search was made the default choice by 2001, Google still rose in traffic share.
  • How putting the search box into the "chrome" of the browser doesn't necessarily mean Microsoft will have a major win this time.
  • How search via toolbars still remain the minority of the way searches happen.

Meanwhile, skip past the business aspects. What about the consumer issue of choice? The New York Times writes of Google's preferred solution:

The best way to handle the search box, Google asserts, would be to give users a choice when they first start up Internet Explorer 7. It says that could be done by asking the user to either type in the name of their favorite search engine or choose from a handful of the most popular services, using a simple drop-down menu next to the search box. The Firefox and Opera browsers come with Google set as the default, but Ms. Mayer said Google would support unfettered choice on those as well.

Sure, I can get behind the "give people a choice from the beginning" idea. But if Google wants Microsoft to do that, then Google should make it happen right now in Firefox, which pretty much is Google's surrogate browser. If this is the best way for a browser to behave, then Google should be putting its weight on Firefox to make it happen. And Google should also ensure it does the same with Dell, where it has a partnership that I believe makes it the default search engine on new Dell computers.

It would be much easier to back Google's suggestions for IE7 if it was already doing this with its own partnerships. That's especially so given this latest article comes two months after the Wall Street Journal gave big play to Google's concerns with IE7. Back in February, the Journal wrote:

In December, for these and other reasons, Google refused to sign an agreement with Microsoft relating to the new browser's search capabilities. Microsoft left Google off the list of alternative search services. A month later, Microsoft notified Google it would be included on the list with or without a signed agreement, according to people familiar with the matter. Microsoft says after a review of its legal position, it realized it could include Google without a formal pact.

So Google's been concerned about choice for months. Nevertheless, it has failed to make any changes in Firefox, as I wrote after reviewing the Wall Street Journal article:

It's an odd argument, given that Google has not demanded that Firefox make consumers do similar choices in that browser. A partnership deal makes Google the default in Firefox, except for Asian-language versions where Yahoo cut its own deals.

In the end, I find it almost amazing that Google feels it needs to drop hints to the US Justice Department and the EU that it perhaps needs protection. In the search space, it's Google that remains the major player that many people feel may need to have a counter to. A list of the most popular search engines? Since those are largely US-dominated companies, I suspect the EU would want to change the playing field not to stop Microsoft but to hinder both Google and Microsoft. Is that a box Google really wants to open?

Finally, some second-day stories, that I've reviewed after writing the article above:

  • Google supports choice...except on FireFox and Opera from Microsoft's Don Dodge raising the same issue I covered above, that Google has hardly demonstrated a support of choice in the way it demands of Microsoft.
  • Google's Double Standard from Yahoo's Jeremy Zawodny, again looking at Google's failure to support choice.
  • Google cries foul, but for what? from Ed Bott provides nice screenshots on how changing providers in IE7 is about the same as changing in Firefox with one exception - MSN Search is NOT an option in Firefox while Google IS an option in IE7. How about Google putting some pressure on Firefox to let Microsoft in the door. It is one of the web's major search engines. It ought to be on that list.
  • Google and choice from Nick Carr has the interesting suggestion that if Google's for choice, shouldn't the Google home page -- which gets far more users than any browser toolbar -- let users make a search choice? The idea gave me a chuckle, but I wouldn't agree. If you go to Google, you wanted Google. I don't buy into the idea you went there because you thought Google was just a synonym for search.
  • Microsoft and Google Set to Wage Arms Race from the New York Times follows on yesterday's article to look at the idea that in the war between Google and Microsoft (and Yahoo, but they don't get a mention), Google's hardly a scrappy underdog. In fact, it has people worried about it perhaps being a monopoly or too powerful. That's something that's been going on since 2002, as my Google: Can The Marcia Brady Of Search Stay Sweet? article from back then covers in more depth.

Want to comment or discuss? Visit our Search Engine Watch Forums thread, Google Objects To Microsoft's IE7 Search Default Plans.