Undeniably, the leading way to search for something on the web is to Google it. The fact that in that sentence, I just used google as a verb shows how embedded Google has become, not only on the internet, but in real life speech. Other companies, of course, want a slice of this action. Microsoft is one of those companies, and being Microsoft, it wants more than a slice: it wants the whole pie.
So, Microsoft has therefore created its own web search system, currently in beta, which it will no doubt eventually place as a default web search on any machine that is unfortunate enough to be running Windows. Usually, this simple act would be enough to crush any opposition. Microsoft relies on its stranglehold on the computing market, and even more on the inertia of its users, to implement whatever malformed devil-spawn of an application it wants on computers around the world, and calling it a “standard”. Despite flaws as deep as the Mariana trench, as long as the product is “good enough”, the opposition is toast. Take a look at the successes of such tripe as Internet Explorer, Word, and Windows itself.
But Google is different. It’s in the popular lexicon, it has the “mind-share”, and is known by the average punter as the way to search. Even faced with a default of Microsoft’s (no doubt soon to be ad-riddled) search system on their Windows boxes, users will still type www.google.com into their browser to start searching, no matter how hard Microsoft tries to force their face in something else. The herd instinct amongst users, which has worked so well to Microsoft’s advantage in the past, in this case at least, works against it.
And that, dear friends, is why it makes my jaded heart glad to know that for first time in Microsoft’s entire history, the company is actually going to have to make something really good, as opposed to just barely good enough, to win this battle. Microsoft has to make its search return better results, have more options, and yet be faster, look better, and still work properly in order to beat Google. Even if it’s better by a huge margin (and going by past efforts, what are the chances of that?), it still may not convince users to switch, despite any and all clear-cut evidence there may be. Something being better by far, and still not come out on top? To that I hear all the Mac users of the world say: “Annoying, isn’t it?”
Post script: Today I happened to be talking with a colleague and wondering exactly how old I was in seconds. So I typed “how old am i in seconds” into Google, where the first result was http://www.time-for-time.com/howold.htm . There I entered my date of birth, and calculated that I am approximately 1.1 billion seconds old.
I typed the same thing in the Microsoft search site, and the first result was Brevard Old Red Eye Rugby Football Club. There’s obviously a bit of work to do yet.
Update 3 February 2006: I thought I would try this out again: typing “how old am i in seconds” into both Google and the Microsoft search sites. Google’s first result was the same as before, and the next couple were similar sites. MSN Search or whatever it’s called now seems to be out of beta, and the first result from the search actually had something to do with it. Progress. The rest of the page’s results were for AM radio hosts named Seconds. Useful.