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The thoughts and theories of a guy who basically should have gone to bed hours ago.

I know, I know - what's the point? But look at it this way - I stayed up late writing it, but you're reading it...

Let's call ourselves even & move on, OK?

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Monday, May 01, 2006

Et Tu, Google?

Frequent readers of this blog know how much I love Google. Heck, with the exception of a few friends of mine who read this fairly regularly, almost everyone who comes here does so because of Google. I'm a big Google fan (and even a shareholder).

So it is with great sadness that I report that Google has begun playing the accuse your competitors of unfair practices game with Microsoft, the Justice Department, and the European Union. Many levels of hypocrisy abound:

[Internet Explorer, version 7] includes a search box in the upper-right corner that is typically set up to send users to Microsoft's MSN search service. Google contends that this puts Microsoft in a position to unfairly grab Web traffic and advertising dollars from its competitors.

The move, Google claims, limits consumer choice and is reminiscent of the tactics that got Microsoft into antitrust trouble in the late 1990's.

Actually, after a lot of hand-wringing (and a new administration), the DoJ dropped the case about integrating the browser into the OS. It was the European Union that finally nailed Microsoft for anti-trust practices, and that was over their inclusion of a Media Player in their OS, not a browser. We continue:

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.

Uh huh...I guess they never noticed this completely unfair, choice-limiting feature of Firefox and Opera until just now, right? Or perhaps they've been privately fighting for its removal all along, and the press just never covered it? Or maybe it's only unfair when the feature doesn't point to your product, and it lives in a browser that has 80%+ market share?

Microsoft responds with a couple of good points:

Giving users an open-ended choice could add complexity and confusion to the browser set-up process, while offering a few options would be arbitrarily limiting.

MSN [is] not always the default search in Internet Explorer 7. When downloaded, the new browser inherits the settings from the old Microsoft browser, version 6. But the search default in that program was based on a feature called AutoSearch that Google says was not widely used.

So again, limiting consumer choice is only OK if it's in a feature that no one uses? But here's the icing on the cake:

[Google sponsored] a study . . . conducted by Tec-Ed, a research firm. It found that only a third of users could master the four-click process to change the default.

Seriously? 67% of web-browser users can't master a four-click process? I highly suspect that what the study really showed was that 67% of browser users didn't bother to use the four-click process to change the default. But that doesn't sound as good to an anti-trust lawyer, now does it?

What's not mentioned here at all is the Google toolbar. Download statistics are not readily available (since you can download it from multiple places), but I'm willing to bet that a very significant portion of the IE installations out there (half? maybe more?) have the Google toolbar installed. That means there's a search box right there on the screen that will take users directly to Google's search results. Of course, there are mitigating factors here: you have to install the Google toolbar yourself - it doesn't come pre-loaded with the browser. On the other hand, the search box on the Google Toolbar is just below the address box, making it more convenient than the one in the upper-right corner. Also, there is no way (four clicks or otherwise) to change the toolbar to search with another search engine. And before you declare me crazy for suggesting that Google build a tool that allows people to search with their competitor's site, allow me to point out to you that this is exactly what they're asking Microsoft to do, and in fact, Microsoft has already done it and Google is asking them to make it easier! There's even a beta version of the toolbar available for IE v7...

For shame, guys. Why not take a more novel approach and declare your indifference to the IE search box, market the hell out of your own toolbar, and tell people they should use your product because it's better (which I happen to believe it is, by the way), rather than appealing to some trumped up assault on their free will?

posted by Brian at 3:54 PM


  • I too am a little disappointed that Google is whining about this, though I agree that less savvy users are not going to know how, or bother to, change the default ... at least not using the method that Microsoft provides ... but:

    I just installed IE7. And what do I see when I bring up Google's home page using IE7? A strategically placed text box in the upper right hand corner that says says "Make Google your search engine in Internet Explorer". Underneath is a button - in my experience, pressing these kinds of buttons usually provides you with instructions - but in this case, it initiates a download of "setie7defaultsearch.exe", with a choice to run/save/cancel (I chose cancel; I had already manually set Google as my default.)

    Pretty aggressive on Google's part - while clever, I'm not impressed with them encouraging people to download/launch executables on their PC - not exactly a safe computing practice.

    By Anonymous Mike Starr, at 10:53 PM, May 01, 2006  

  • I agree - pretty agressive for Google.

    They're acting like they're the little guy fighting the big monopoly power, when they already own 49% of the search market. It makes me wonder what's scaring them so much...

    As for the executable, that comes down to a matter of trust, I guess. I don't typically run executables off the Internet, but I installed the Google toolbar without giving it a second thought, and would probably trust an executable from Google, as long as I knew what it was doing. If you ask me, that executable should run as the last step of the Toolbar installation, and appear as a question after install ("Do you want to make the box in the upper-right corner use Google too? Yes/No"). The box they have there now should also prompt you to install the toolbar. To me, that's their bread & butter...

    Of course, you and I are among the top 33% who can "master" a 4-click process to manually change our search tool, so all of this might be beneath the "average" user... ;-)

    By Blogger Brian, at 12:09 AM, May 02, 2006  

  • Well, this might have something to do with what's scaring them:

    Maybe they know something about Microsoft's new search engine that we don't know?!?

    By Blogger Brian, at 10:06 AM, May 02, 2006  

  • Can someone tell me why Amazon doesn't use it's own search engine, A9? There's a bug whereby I can't reach Google when I'm using T-Mobile GPRS, and that's usually my default replacement -- guess I know why I'm the only person who seems to have heard about it.

    By Anonymous Jeff Porten, at 5:32 PM, May 06, 2006  

  • This is an excellent point. I just went to Amazon and did a search. At the top of the screen, there's a search box on the left, and a "Web Search" box on the right that says "A9 Web Search."

    I searched for something using the left box, and at the bottom of the screen, it says "Powered by A9."

    So either CNN got it wrong, or A9 is just a branded version of Google's (now Microsoft's) tools...

    By Blogger Brian, at 12:37 AM, May 07, 2006  

  • Just popped back into A9 to check this out -- the maps are coming from MapQuest, which AFAIK isn't Google or Microsoft. Interestingly, when I clicked on "Washington, DC", the default address it started mapping was only a few blocks from where I'm sitting. Don't know if that's an IP trace, a cookie, or just a coincidence.

    By Anonymous Jeff Porten, at 6:03 PM, May 07, 2006  

  • Does your Amazon account have your address attached to it? If so, it wouldn't surprise me that a map of your hometown would start at your house (sounds like an Amazon-like thing to do).

    Wouldn't the IP address just get them to your vicinity (not your street?) Mine just tells you the county I'm in, and that's just because that's how Comcast is organized, AFAIK...

    In any case, I searched for text, not a map and got the "Powered by A9" message. Apparently, they've got different providers for different services...

    By Blogger Brian, at 10:51 PM, May 07, 2006  

  • Nope, it started with an address close to my old home address, but the same. And you're right that an IP trace can only come up with approximate locations; an AOL IP can be anywhere in the country, while most of my T-Mobile IPs boil down to anywhere on the East Coast (AFAIK).

    I actually am chalking this one up to coincidence; the address it picked could very well be the epicenter of the parts of town most commonly searched for. And I still don't know who's providing the A9 search mechanism, nor will I much care unless the results come back oddly, or if I hear that my search data is being misused.

    By Anonymous Jeff Porten, at 7:19 PM, May 08, 2006  

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