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Google and choice

May 01, 2006

I've been thinking some more about Google's attack on Microsoft for allegedly making its search engine the default engine on its new browser (see prior post). As Google's Marissa Mayer puts it, "We don't think it's right for Microsoft to just set the default to MSN. We believe users should choose." That statement seems consistent with Google's ideals, particularly its philosophy of "always placing the interests of the user first" even when that means "resist[ing] the temptation to make small sacrifices to increase shareholder value." Google's simply asking that Microsoft, as well, live up to Google's ideals - that it give users the choice of which search engine to use even if that means sacrificing some shareholder value.

But what's the most powerful and influential default setting in the search world today? It's not - at least yet - in Microsoft's Internet Explorer. It's on Google's home page. I would guess that a strong plurality, if not a majority, of web searches are done through Google's home page, at least in the United States. As "Google" has become synonymous with "search," people head to its home page as much out of habit as anything else. It is, quite simply, where you go to search the web. But Google doesn't give you any choices when you arrive at its home page. There's a default engine - Google's - and it's a default that you can't change. There's no choice.

If Google wants to fully live up to its ideals - to really give primacy to the goal of user choice in search - it should open up its home page to other search engines. That would be easy to do without mucking up the page or the "user experience." You could just add a simple drop down menu that would allow users to choose whether to do a search with Google's engine, or Microsoft's, or Yahoo's, or one of the other, less-well-known engines that now exist. The result would be that users get more choice as well as fuller access to the wealth of information on the web (another of Google's goals). By enabling broader competition in search, right at the point of user access, Google would also promote innovation in search technology, again benefiting the user.

The greatest opportunity to enhance the ability of users to freely choose how they search the net lies in Google's own backyard. Why not take advantage of it?


I find Google's stance even more hypocritical because they have no problem taking over the default search and home page positions in Firefox. I am fairly certain that, were Firefox to gain even more ground against IE, Google would not give up this position because it gave them an unfair advantage over other search companies.

Posted by: Ed Bilodeau at May 1, 2006 09:31 AM

Taking this position (and having it covered on the front of the NY Times no less) will either be seen as a sign of weakness or fodder to attack Google down the road.

Whenever companies start attacking Microsoft for being a monopoly, it seems to be the result of weak kneed executives getting nervous that the superiority of their product won't stand up to Microsoft (Explorer beat Netscape due to functionaly superiority, Windows beat Macs due to cost/value superiority etc). For a while now, consumers had the MSN search as a default home page, but chose to go to Google as it's superior. Is Google getting nervous that consumers will be a bit lazier since the search results are not longer as superior?

On the other hand, if Google does win out in the long run, people will use these statements to try and force it to use other search engines on it's home page (good suggestion, Nicholas), in it's sidebar and in other future Google applications.

If Google really wanted to attack Microsoft, it would make a one-click program on it's home page that changes the default search engine on IE7 while also trying to cut massive deals with major PC producers (Dell etc) and pushing a consumer campaign for Google driven Windows PCs (I know a lot of consumers would go for it).

Posted by: Ephraim Cohen at May 1, 2006 10:08 AM

This is nonsense. It's about choice. No one forces people to go to Google's homepage. They choose to do it.

I.E. 7 will, except in extremely rare instances, make people use MSN search, unless they change the default setting in the built-in search box.

But most people don't know how to change the defaults in software, and therefore their choice is taken away by I.E. 7.

Everyone who uses the web knows how to type in a URL. If they wanted something other than Google, they can just type it in.

Furthermore, Google does refer people to its competitors all the time in search results. It also does so on sites like Google Finance.

People go to Google because they choose to do so, not because they're tricked into going there.

Posted by: Dominic Jones at May 1, 2006 10:23 AM

I must be missing something...how are these two things related?

From what I read Google's concern is that most people don't know enough to change their default settings. So rather than provide hard coded defaults, let the user choose when the application is first started.

This is already done the first time you load IE and need to pick what type of network will be used. Extending this to support choosing a search engine would be trivial.

On Firefox; Google doesn't make Firefox. If Microsoft wants to negotiate a deal with the developers they can do so and Google can't do much about it (subject to any contract that might have been signed).

Google has already stated they would have no issues with this arrangement if it were to pass. Heck, Microsoft could release their own version of Firefox that pointed back to MSN. Not likely, but they could.


Posted by: Wayne at May 1, 2006 10:27 AM

The suggestion that Google place on its own home page the ability for surfers to look for information on other search engines is so asinine that I can only assume that you are making a very subtle point about Microsoft being pressured to enable people using Windows to make their own choices about where to search.

. . .

In other words: what's good for the goose is good for the gander.

If that's what you're intended to say, then it seems to have a little too subtle for Scoble and others to catch ... but it was something fairly insightful to say.

. . .

If, on the other hand, you're serious, then you have to start thinking about which company is on most computers by default (not Google), which company has been in legal trouble for decades for unfair competition and antitrust violations (not Google), and which company could potentially force people to use its services (not Google).

Posted by: John Koetsier at May 1, 2006 02:45 PM

I wonder if Google's ever been sued because a company thinks a competitor having first place in the search results is an unfair advantage.

Posted by: Anonymous at May 1, 2006 02:45 PM

When I go to Jiffy Lube, it bugs me when they ask me what type of engine oil to use. I don't know! I'm not a car techie. I almost always defer to their advice. This is about all I can tolerate.

If they were to further ask me what *brand* of oil to use and force me to weigh the benefits of Penzoil vs STP vs Mobil, I'd take my business elsewhere.

The fact that Jiffy Lube went ahead and made an exclusive deal with one supplier of engine oil doesn't bother me in the least.

If I hate having MSN as the default that much, I'd go buy a Mac. (I don't, so I won't.)

Posted by: Kevin Hsu at May 1, 2006 02:52 PM

Next we will wonder why google should be default search engine in google toolbars.
What a crazy world :)

Posted by: Tanasije Gjorgoski at May 1, 2006 02:58 PM

"But most people don't know how to change the defaults in software, and therefore their choice is taken away by I.E. 7"

Get yourself a copy of IE7 and head over to www.google.com with it. There will appear a large button in the top right corner and an arrow pointing right to the search box. It couldn't be any easier to change the default and for most people this button will be very obvious.

Posted by: BenN at May 1, 2006 03:11 PM

@ Ed Bilodeau
Google has already said that they have no problem with Firefox, safari changing their defaults. PLus Google said that it would be happy that on frst search users r given a choice. and if that system is implemented on firefox and safari it has no problem with it.

Source CNET

Posted by: MySchizoBuddy at May 1, 2006 03:14 PM


You can say that Google doesn't make Firefox but they fund key Firefox developers as Google employees and pay Firefox for every copy it ships. That sounds close enough in my opinion.

Given the way Google has targeted IE7 visitors already, the average user will simply need to visit Google.com once in order to be offered the option, by Google, to change their default search provider to Google. They've been targetting IE7 users with IE7 specific front page changes since the IE7 Beta 1 build came out.

Microsoft supports the OpenSearch standard. There is nothing stopping Google from having an OpenSearch link right on their front page with a "Hey, IE7 user! Click here!!" as the text.

Besides, if a user has already switched, in IE6, their search provider to Google, it isn't like Microsoft takes that away from them. IE7 simply preserves the search provider that is already in place AND gives an actual standards-based approach to changing it. Does Firefox do this with Google? No.

Posted by: Al Billings at May 1, 2006 03:17 PM

This is the stupidest thing I have read so far today, and I am a math professor giving/grading exams today so thats says a lot. This would be akin to saying that Best Buy should allow Circuit City to set up a shop within its stores for the purpose of choice. What microsoft is doing is giving the illusion of choice. What an idiot.

Posted by: roland at May 1, 2006 03:32 PM

So, if I stop by Wendy's for a burger, should I also expect them to offer me items from Subway, Arby's, etc. menus just because their slogan is that I should have a choice?

Plus, you can already go to a site that has all of the major search engines on one page - http://dogpile.com/. So, maybe all browsers should default to Dogpile and thus avoid alienating either Google or Microsoft.

Posted by: Bill Brantley at May 1, 2006 03:48 PM

This is just sand in Microsoft's face; Microsoft would dearly love to have a rerun of the Browser wars (they won) and treat Google as the new Netscape. Google's advantage is going to be that they are at the point where they can offer a compelling alternative to the core lifestyle applications that does not require Windows and thus can escape from the viral swamp. IE7 will be just as vulnerable, Vista won't save Microsoft, and MSN won't replace Google anytime soon. Look to MSFT to lose half it's value before the turnaround.

Posted by: Larry at May 1, 2006 03:56 PM

IE is a browser.
Google is a search engine.

I can see having a search engine choice within a browser, but to have a search engine choice on a search engine's own web site doesn't make sense.

Posted by: Mike Drips at May 1, 2006 04:43 PM

I'm sorry to say this is not the stupidest idea I've seen today. But it is still pretty doggone stupid. When I can read the thinking of a different writer than Mr. Carr by purchasing the book which he has written, than that is precisely when I shall do so.

Posted by: George Girton at May 1, 2006 04:56 PM

Dude, I want some of what you're smoking. That's some good, good shit.

Posted by: Paul Montgomery at May 1, 2006 06:22 PM

Google is just posturing. Microsoft should be able to make MSN search the default without mucking up the user experience with a question about which search engine the user wants.

Having a search engine selector on google.com, on the other hand, is just plain stoopid.

Posted by: pwb at May 1, 2006 06:53 PM

Mike: Google isn't a search engine, it's an advertising distribution system. :-)

Posted by: Robert Scoble at May 1, 2006 06:55 PM

Weird though. The first search engine to come up when I google "search" from Firefox is MSN search. When I do it from IE, it is Google.

Posted by: Chris Graham at May 1, 2006 07:16 PM

Nick you missed it by a country mile with this one.

Posted by: Chris_B at May 1, 2006 09:38 PM

Dominic-- Talk about nonsense:

"But MOST PEOPLE DON'T KNOW HOW to change the defaults in software, and therefore their choice is taken away by I.E. 7.

EVERYONE WHO USES THE WEB KNOWS HOW to type in a URL. If they wanted something other than Google, they can just type it in."

So if everyone knows how to type in a URL, how can Microsoft possibly take away their choice? Why couldn't that last sentence be:

"If they wanted something other than MSN, they can just type it in."

And why doesn't Firefox have the choice of search engine as an option during installation?

Besides the fact that the assumption for your argument is that people are just stupid and can't figure out what they're doing, it just makes no sense.

Posted by: Morgan at May 1, 2006 09:46 PM

Let Google give up its search monopoly on the Mac, then I'll listen to what they have to say. Mac's default browser is Safari, and Safari's search field is actually *hard-coded* to use Google and nothing else. I haven't seen Google raise any objections to that.

Posted by: Molly C at May 1, 2006 10:14 PM

Molly, the Mac has 2-3% market share of the PC market (at best). A monopoly on that 2-3%, does not even begin to compare to the unfair advantage Microsoft has to force people to use its search (which Microsoft will, when you get a new copy of Vista on a new machine, with no previous preferences to migrate over).

Posted by: J at May 2, 2006 01:16 AM

Your comparison just seems like apples and oranges to me.

Microsoft Windows is on 97% of all computers sold. In the past, Microsoft has been tried and convicted for using this monopoly power to quash competitors.

Google has anywhere from 40-50% of the search market. Using Google is a choice, and there is absolutely no barrier to entry to switching your search engine. If you want to use a different website than google.com, you have a huge array of choices.

If you want to use something other than Microsoft Windows, you have basically two choices: One of which costs about 20-30% more and is used by 2% of the market, and another which is free, but which has a crappy user interface and is virtually unknown among normal, non-tech savvy people. In short, most people are stuck with Windows.

In the past, Microsoft has done things to slow down the software of competitors on its system, threatened to "cut of the air supply" of competitors, and drove innovation in the browser market to a standstill for years. I don't know that the government is the best remedy for this case, but comparing the huge layers of lock-in an OS company has with a web services company just doesn't make any sense to me.

Posted by: Ned C at May 2, 2006 01:57 AM

prisoner's dilemma? i am pretty sure google would be up for it. lets assume just for a second that google would really give users a drop down menue to select their search engine. lets also assume that IE would also offer a free search engine choice on the msn default start page. who'd gain more in such a scenario? obviously google. simply because google is the best search engine out there. so microsoft would be nuts to follwo such an approach. and so would be google by the way - since they would most likley stand alone with such an action.

don't assume people don't know how to make choices. sure, 5 years ago the default start page that came with IE meant that users were stuck with it. in 2006 i doubt that there are many users left who do not know how to change their default start page. and those who still don't know how to - well, how much value do they contribute to your business?

the web is probably the best tool when it comes to free choice. "blaming" google or msn for their strategies seems a bit pointless to me. users have free choice.

Posted by: ole at May 2, 2006 02:32 AM

Does anyone remember when Google had links to let you try the same search on Yahoo or Altavista? Back when they actually had balls?

Posted by: Kingsley Joseph [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 2, 2006 04:04 AM

How many RSS, PodCast and Newsgroup applications ship pointing to their own URI by default ? I would suggest that most of them do. Are Google going to go after them also ?

As someone has previously stated, if you go to www.google.com using IE7 a 'big box' appears in the top right with a great big red arrow asking "Make Google your search engine in Internet Explorer". I'm sure Google are going to make it as easy as possible to change the IE7 settings.

I think Google credibility as a search engine has diminished massively over the last couple of years. The proliferation of "paid for" ranking and advertising means I almost always have to skip pages before I get the results I want.

Paying for ranking in a search engine is just wrong, but hey at least they are happy. With after expenses profits of $1.52 Billion and a whole new captive market in China to look forward too... they're on a roll.

Posted by: Al Maddern at May 2, 2006 04:18 AM

This is only too true. Google is basically saying, 'We don't respect property rights. We're worried about competing in the marketplace, so we'll go gripe to regulators." Give me a break!

People are not stupid. If you really want to use google, Microsoft does not and cannot force you to do otherwise. If your higher value is to just not think about it and get an operating system that integrates common functions in a reasonable way, Google, Sun Microsystems, RealNetworks and Oracle don't want you to get it.

Posted by: Kevin at May 2, 2006 05:19 AM

Google's complaint is obsurd and this "don't be evil" credo is getting tired. If they really want to offer users a choice how about they add a link to download IE or Opera when a user arrives at their page using Firefox in the same way they link to Firefox when I visit their page with IE. Look, I like both companies, but Google is starting to get annoying professing to be a saint one moment then ignoring their no evil motto the next.

Posted by: slw at May 2, 2006 07:13 AM

Google isn't really trying to live up to its ideals, or ask others too - it's simply a corporate move from an over-valued company, that sees a different type of user choice as a direct threat to it's revenues.

If Microsoft really wanted to attack Google, they'd simply kill JS ads by default in IE7.


Posted by: Brian Turner at May 2, 2006 07:22 AM

Quote :
its philosophy of "always placing the interests of the user first" even when that means "resist[ing] the temptation to make small sacrifices to increase shareholder value."

If Google were that altruistic, you wouldn't find the restrictive clause in the Adsense TOS that restricts users from using any other context based advertising on the same page. There really isn't any other rationale except that it would hit their revenue stream.

Posted by: 2¢ Worth at May 2, 2006 10:15 AM


Google is an advertising delivery mechanism to Google and to Google's advertisers (and to Microsoft).

It's a search engine to users (since we don't notice the ads).

&, FYI, IE is a browser.

Posted by: Sam Hiser at May 2, 2006 10:36 AM

Its apple and oranges here folks.. I don't believe that Google's home page is being distributed with millions of new PCs. How hard can it be so pop up a selection box? Oh yeah, I just spent 11 hours installing a USB 2.0 TV Tuner with Media Center.. It could be VERY VERY hard for MS to get it right!!

Posted by: John Clark at May 2, 2006 11:51 AM

"But Google doesn't give you any choices when you arrive at its home page." must be the most preposterous thing I've ever read (there, I always wanted to use the word preposterous in a comment). What's next, BMW offering "choices" by suggesting a visit to Mercedes' website on their home page? Not your best moment, I'm afraid, Nicholas.

To everyone who suggested that a user is free to type Google's URI in the browser input field: you can trust Microsoft to make the search function so pervasive in the overall Windows user interface that in less than 2 years time few users will even start their browser to search the internet (on Windows). Meaning that there won't be an input field to type an URI. "The browser is a threat to Microsoft? No problem, we'll make do without a browser wherever possible."

Posted by: Luc Dubois at May 2, 2006 12:58 PM

Oh come on folks, changing the search engine in ie7 is so stupidly easy this is ridiculous.

It even provides a picklist of the common search engines.

Here are some screenshots demonstrating IE7's search:


All you do is click the arrow next to the search box and then select the search engine. The blundering idiots used by google's test group clearly did not understand the menu option "Change search defaults" would in fact change the search defaults.

Posted by: yougottabekiddingyou at May 2, 2006 01:55 PM

The premise is factually flawed anyway. IE7 respects the default (Google in many cases) of IE6. This protects the money that GOOG spent to buy off OEMs and to promote their toolbar. GOOG should be happy about that. Imagine the alternative. Suppose YHOO convinced a user to set YHOO as default in IE6, and then first launch of IE6 says "Are you *sure* you don't want Google instead?". That would have YHOO crying foul, and wouldn't seem rather unfair to me.

Posted by: Joshua Allen [msft] at May 2, 2006 03:57 PM

Doesn't anybody in the MSFT camp get the gist of this? The point is the operating system comes WITH IE (soon to be 7) and that the experience out of the box is the user using Windows with IE with MSN Live. That leverage is the exact scenario that caused the court to rule on abuse of a monopoly position, and it's the fundamental aspect of the EU case.

For a user, even on a Mac, to use Google, it's a choice by somebody that doesn't help Apple directly. Apple doesn't own Google. Microsoft DOES own MSN Live. Firefox doesn't own Google. Firefox doesn't come by default on your new copy of Windows. IE does.

Quit dissecting the argument to a single product. Nobody I know gripes about Microsoft competing with any of their stand-alone products that aren't bundled with the OS. Office wallops competitors with capability and/or intertia, but it's not bundled with all these leverage points.

If Microsoft didn't have such a horribly history of abusive business practice, this wouldn't be an issue. It wouldn't be an issue if they didn't have 85% of the browser and 90%+ of the desktops. The point is that situation exists, and it stifles legitimate competition. Google is pointing out that this is a further extension of the practices that Microsoft was found guilty of. Address THAT without mixing a dozen irrelevant detailed metaphors that don't take into account the court rulings or drawing parallels with Google that doesn't have an enforced monopoly.

Posted by: Dallas H at May 2, 2006 04:38 PM

In fact, why isn’t Walmart required to sell Target’s merchandise in their stores? Shouldn’t consumers be given a CHOICE? (other than the choice they’d already made, that is, of driving to Walmart’s store in the first place). And really, if I go to the opera, why couldn’t I listen to a Broadway musical instead? Who says the world has to use common sense, anyway?

And speaking of... There's a difference between being a monopoly and being popular, even if both notions can be expressed in percentages.

Posted by: Megan at May 2, 2006 04:53 PM

I can't believe that people are still whining about MS’s “unfair competitive advantage” installing applications by default on Windows, like Windows Media Player. It’s a joke.

If your business model is reliant on commercial sales of a product that competes with something MS gives away free on their platform then I would suggest that you either reconsider your market strategy or make your product massively feature rich and dirt cheap. If Joe/Janet User need features not shipped in the Windows bundled default then make your product appealing to them on price and ability and you’ll get some sales, but don’t expect a huge slice of the cake.

Innovate, don’t recycle.

Posted by: Al Maddern at May 3, 2006 02:45 AM

I'd just like to point out that Firefox allows an extensive and unrestricted list of extensions. One of the more popular extensions is CustomizeGoogle ( https://addons.mozilla.org/extensions/moreinfo.php?id=743 ) which adds links directly to Google result pages to perform the same search on 11 alternative sites including MSN, Yahoo, Ask, Lycos, Altavista, Technorati, Wikipedia, etc. Would Microsoft ever allow a similar extension for IE which altered MSN's results? Seriously.

Also, while Google is the default search box parameter in Firefox, it's a matter of exactly two clicks to change that (Click the G icon next to the search box->Select new search engine), without having to go into any settings. To change the default in IE7 is 4 clicks into their settings, not from the 'front page', according to Microsoft. While that may seem like no big deal to most tech-minded people, tech-minded people are in fact the minority of Windows users in the world. Those who would have a big deal with it are the moms, dads, grandmas, grandpas, and other people who have difficulty even changing their default homepage in IE, which is also 4 clicks (Tools->Internet Options->Use Current->Ok), or doing Windows Updates which is usually 4 clicks as well (Tools->Windows Update->Express->Install Updates) - 8 or so clicks if they have to update the WindowsUpdate ActiveX control.

As numerous people above have pointed out, Google does not own any browser (nor an OS with 90%+ market saturation on which that browser is not only installed but integrated into by default). Firefox/Safari could just as easily set the default to Yahoo or MSN if that were the search engine they felt best suited their users. Google has already stated they would have no problem offering users a choice upon installation in ANY browser. Microsoft on the other hand dismisses that idea out-of-hand. Who seriously cares about user choice again?

This all boils down to the inherent conflict of interest Microsoft continually seeks to exploit for itself with regards to IE.

Posted by: Ryan at May 6, 2006 07:10 AM

Also, with regards to people trying to justify Microsoft by saying IE7 inherits the default search engine set in previous versions of IE: I have to use a 3rd party application to change the default search engine in IE6. There is no option anywhere in the settings area to do that. The only way it gets changed from MSN is if Compaq, Dell, etc preset it differently or I install a toolbar or application which lets me change it (such as the old Giant Anti-Spyware program - it's current incarnation as Windows Defender curiously removed that option from the program after Microsoft bought out Giant).

Oh, but there is one button under the Programs tab in Options to "Reset web settings" which will "reset Internet Explorer to the default home and search pages".

Posted by: Ryan at May 6, 2006 07:42 AM


Google has nothing to worry about. Want to change the search to Google? No problem, go to their web page (I mean, you've heard about it, right? Who hasn't?).

In IE7, when you do, this is what you get:

click for small graphic

Posted by: Bryan at May 15, 2006 07:13 PM

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