The Washington Canard
Where C-SPAN is the local TV news

Monday, May 01, 2006

Regular readers shouldn't have too much trouble discerning my general opinion of Microsoft, considering my readiness to buy another Apple after my previous one gave up the ghost (albeit temporarily). This is about more than operating systems, though. I haven't used Hotmail in years — I use Gmail almost exclusively. Nor can I remember the last time I performed an MSN search — once again, I'm using Google (unless I'm using Technorati). Despite threats to set up shop elsewhere, I'm still using Google's industry-leading blogging service, and MSN Spaces is not my destination when I do.

That said, I find myself having a very strong pro-Microsoft, anti-Google reaction to a report in this morning's New York Times:
    With a $10 billion advertising market at stake, Google, the fast-rising Internet star, is raising objections to the way that it says Microsoft, the incumbent powerhouse of computing, is wielding control over Internet searching in its new Web browser.
Aside from reflexively wondering what kills the Internet star, I must ask: Hasn't Google already risen? Google is nine years old and the dot com bubble popped six years ago. Therefore, the majority of the company's lifespan has fallen during the so-called Web 2.0 era it currently dominates.
    Google, which only recently began beefing up its lobbying efforts in Washington, says it expressed concerns about competition in the Web search business in recent talks with the Justice Department and the European Commission, both of which have brought previous antitrust actions against Microsoft.

    The new browser 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.
You can call it a case of the young scrapper picking a fight with the aging pugilist, but I call it a shameless attempt to intimidate a competitor by threatening litigation on an issue settled years ago.
    The move, Google claims, limits consumer choice and is reminiscent of the tactics that got Microsoft into antitrust trouble in the late 1990's.
See what I mean?

First of all, competition in the browser market hasn't been better since the heady days of Netscape vs. Microsoft (for the record, I stuck by Netscape Navigator until doing so was pointless). Yes, Microsoft holds 80%+ of the browser market, but Firefox has obviously made serious inroads as of late.

Of course, Microsoft stays big because it's already big. To the amusement of myself and many far geekier than same, Microsoft is too busy scrambling on functionality to think about innovation. But this fact makes it all the more relevant — not to mention more galling — considering that Google is the installation default for the search boxes in Firefox, Opera and Safari and on AOL.

And yet, sounding vaguely like a NARAL spokeswoman who studiously avoids using the word "abortion," Google's spokeswoman protests Microsoft's alleged intransigence:
    "The market favors open choice for search, and companies should compete for users based on the quality of their search services," said Marissa Mayer, the vice president for search products at Google. "We don't think it's right for Microsoft to just set the default to MSN. We believe users should choose."
See? Microsoft is anti-choice! Google wants you to choose MSN or search the first time you launch it, which is ludicrous, and only slightly less ludicrous if they're willing to let A9, Yahoo and the others (Alta Vista, anyone?) join them on the setup page.

What's even more hypocritical is that no browser with Google built in offers such a choice, and self-proclaimed "search veteran" Niall Kennedy (not the hawkish Brit Harvard prof, you're thinking of Niall Ferguson) points out that you really have to work to put a different engine in Safari. How pro-choice is Google really?

And is Google that insecure about the service they provide? After all, Microsoft is big, but Google currently has half the market share in online search — so wouldn't a lot of people just hop over to and find things like they do now? Or, I don't know, open up Preferences and make the adjustment?

Even though this post defends the Microsoft position, I rather I doubt, in the long run, that MSN Search will prove useful enough to displace Google. And if it does prove the superior search engine? Well, I will follow Kennedy's advice and point my Safari search box to MSN as well.

Google is famous for having in its mission statement the injunction "Don't be evil." Methinks they should have added: "Don't be stupid."

Me Too
The views expressed are
  solely those of the author
  and do not necessarily
  reflect the views of
The District


Foreign Affairs