Google Lashes Out at IE 7 Search Feature

A month ago, Google approached the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and the European Union (EU) to complain about the Internet search feature in Microsoft's upcoming Internet Explorer (IE) 7 Web browser, which Google says unfairly promotes Microsoft's MSN Search service. The tactic, which might be described as tattling if both companies were three-year-old children, is debatable: Google is betting that antitrust regulators at the DOJ and EU will see parallels between IE 7's use of MSN and Microsoft's ignominious defeat of Netscape a decade ago. But Google is a much more powerful and cash-rich company than Netscape ever was. Where does one draw the line between competition and product bundling?

"The market favors open choice for search, and companies should compete for users based on the quality of their search services," says Google Vice President Marissa Mayer. "We don't think it's right for Microsoft to just set the default to MSN. We believe users should choose."

To date, neither the DOJ nor the EU has elected to pursue the case. And Microsoft argues, correctly, that the IE 7 search box--a tiny slice of onscreen real estate in the upper right corner of the browser window--is remarkably easy for consumers to configure for their favorite search engine. If people really do prefer Google, the argument goes, they'll have no problem changing IE 7 to use Google instead of MSN Search.

In my own tests of the Beta 2 version of the browser, I found this feature to be quite open to competitive search engines. Here's how I described this feature in my review of IE 7 Beta 2: "Microsoft even lets you easily change the default search engine to your favorite, including Google," I wrote. "And there's none of the stupidity you might suspect Microsoft of engaging in here at all. The company is even maintaining a Web site full of search engine providers so you can pick your favorite search engine easily and get on with life."

Microsoft's response to Google is priceless. The software giant says that IE 7 is designed to be pro-user, whether Google likes it or not. "Whatever behavior happened in the past, the guiding principle we had is that the user is in control," says Dean Hachamovitch, the general manager of the Internet Explorer team at Microsoft. And if you're still terrified that IE 7 will harm Google, consider these facts: Google is set as the default search engine in most rival browsers, including Mozilla Firefox. And Google recently promoted Firefox on its heavily trafficked--and market-leading--Web site. The Firefox version Google points to, naturally, includes an integrated Google toolbar.

As a powerful monopolist, Microsoft should be watched carefully. But many of its competitors have chosen of late to compete in the courts rather than in the open market, perhaps because they feel that the software giant's legal woes make it more vulnerable. Google's allegation is frivolous. It's the dominant market leader in Internet search today and likely will be for some time to come. Google and Microsoft should be allowed to duke it out in traditional competitive ways for market share, eyeballs, and ad dollars.

TAGS: Windows 8
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