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Google/Microsoft: Careful What You Whine For

One of many smart comments/links to the last post re MSN’s deterioration concerned the default search setting for the forthcoming IE 7.0.  As the NYT details, Microsoft is embedding a search window in the browser header of 7.0 with MSN as the default search engine (or “Live” or whatever the Microsoft engine is or will be).  Google, meanwhile, is complaining that this is an abuse of power, that Microsoft should be forced to make every new PC user walk through set-up screens that choose the default.  Commentators are using the tiff as a way to suggest that Google is in trouble, Microsoft is about to pull a Microsoft (come from behind and win the web game), etc.

Thoughts:

  • First, hats off to Google for keeping a straight face while complaining about this.  Microsoft’s monopolistic bullying, apparently, threatens to boost MSNs 11% share of search while chipping away at Google’s 50%-share–so it’s clearly worth tax-payer dollars to get the regulators involved.  Also, the Google toolbar that Google smuggled onto my PC in a “Java update” package last week has not only embedded a Google search window in my (Microsoft) browser but made it look like the browser was made by Google (the word Microsoft is nowhere to be seen).
  • Second, hats off to Google for realizing that, although the idea that Microsoft’s plan is somehow monopolistic bullying is ridiculous, the idea that regulators, especially the EU, might not see it that way is not.  Regulators usually fight the last war, and if Google succeeds in getting them up in arms about this non-event in a new world in which Microsoft is the farthest thing from a monopolist, more power to Google.
  • Third, according to the NYT, Microsoft is not hard-coding MSN into every browser but, instead, giving PC makers the ability to charge search providers a fee to be the default search engine.  If Google wants that slot, in other words, it doesn’t need to complain about it–it can just use a tiny fraction of its gigantic cash pile to pony up.
  • Fourth, users can change the pre-set default easily, just as they can with the IE homepage (which also comes set to MSN, and which hasn’t exactly stifled Google’s growth).  That many don’t hasn’t helped Microsoft do any better in the web business than a distant and nearly irrelevant third.
  • Fifth, I don’t have the numbers to back it up, but Google’s end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it estimate in the NYT that 30%-50% of users will use the embedded search window strikes me as absurdly high.
  • Sixth, even if Microsoft does what it plans to do, I don’t see this as a major game-changer, at least not re Google.  For most people, Google equals search, and no window is going to change that (unless it’s Google’s).  I get the sense that many of Yahoo!’s searches, however, are driven by convenience–MyYahoo users using the closest box–and if an embedded window in IE is even more convenient, then that could be bad news for Yahoo.

Bottom line, Google’s public complaining about such a small issue seems to me evidence that its sense of itself (quirky, aggressive start-up) still hasn’t quite caught up with its reality (global behemoth).  If so, of course, this is a DNA trait it very much shares with the even more dominant global behemoth to the north.

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