It's no surprise that yesterday's announcement of an Internet search partnership between Microsoft and Yahoo! triggered so much attention. After all, the two companies have been dancing around some form of link-up for years, and at times the standoff between the two got quite acrimonious.
But what about Google? After all, Google is the company with the most to lose here, even though it will continue as the Internet search leader, by a wide margin, even after the consummation of the Microsoft/Yahoo! deal. Is Google worried about the link up? Does this deal represent the beginning of the end of Google's reign?
The first public comments from Google came yesterday via Marissa Mayer, the company's vice president of search and user experience. She said that it was "unfortunate" that there was one less player in the search market now because it weakens the competitive landscape. "Everyone runs faster in a race where there are more people," she said.
She also questioned whether Microsoft would stop innovating now that it had secured Yahoo!'s part of the needle. Microsoft, she said, would feel less of a sense of urgency and not "move the needle" as quickly as it did during the recent ramp up to its Bing service release.
It's pretty clear that Google will soon be discussing this deal with antitrust regulators in the United States and Europe, and it's possible that Google will even jumpstart those discussions by issuing a formal complaint. Google previously complained that Microsoft's 2008 takeover attempt of Yahoo! raised "troubling questions" and allowed Microsoft to continue to unfairly extend its desktop OS monopoly. (Microsoft later withdrew from the takeover attempt.)
However, this deal is less far-reaching than a company-wide acquisition. Together, Microsoft and Yahoo!'s search engines still garner less than 50 percent of the usage share of Google's search engine, regardless of market. And Microsoft and Yahoo! are not combining their websites, email clients, or instant messaging services, as they would if Microsoft purchased the company. Complaining that its new number two competitor controls 28 percent of the market in the United States, instead of 20 percent as Yahoo! does now, is a bit of a non-starter. (In Europe, it's even less dramatic: Combined, Microsoft and Yahoo! account for just 10 percent of Internet searches.)
Google's complaint, then, will likely center on a lessening of consumer choice. But as is always the case in fast-moving markets, consolidation isn't just inevitable, it's desirable. And I can't see any complaints about this deal finding a sympathetic regulatory ear, especially if they come from the company that will still be the overwhelming market leader when the dust settles.