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Wednesday, February 4th, 2004

Search Engine Wars: MSN + Google = Netscape

 

“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” George Santayana (1863 – 1952)

The search engine war between Google and MSN is generating some nasty tactics reminiscent of the Microsoft vs. Netscape battle of the mid ’90′s. Those who remember that battle will recall the almost surgical methods used by Microsoft to all but destroy Netscape. Today, Netscape is a shell of its former self, kept in a dull corner of the Time Warner empire and denied the attention or funding it needs to reemerge as a viable entity in the browser market. Many will also remember the tactics used by Microsoft to destroy Netscape generated years of anti-trust litigation and almost led to the break-up of the world’s richest corporation and largest software maker. At the end of the day of course, Microsoft got off with a wrist slap and the knowledge that the US Government will not kill a goose that lays golden eggs (and whose products run much of the national infrastructure). Microsoft is obviously feeling free to resort to some its old tricks and the search engine wars are about to go mainstream, possibly becoming public entertainment. Remember the film, Pirates of Silicone Valley? This script promises to be even more interesting.

Search is the fastest growing sector of the Internet and the advertising industry. Currently considered a $2 – 2.5Billion industry, industry experts expect search and search technology to generate over $8Billion per annum by 2007. As a yardstick to measure by, the logging industry in British Columbia is valued at approximately $5Billion per year. Search, in other words, is a serious global business that is projected to generate staggering revenues and growth over the next half-decade. That much money tends to generate a great deal of motivation.

According to yesterday’s New York Times, Microsoft has officially turned its great eye on Google and is specifically targeting Google and its employees. Microsoft recruiters are said to be calling Google staff at home, telling them that MSN’s new search tool will bury Google and that they had better defect north to Redmond Washington as soon as possible before their jobs and soon to be stock options are worthless. Executives from both companies were seen watching each other like hawks at last week’s World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland. Wherever a Google representative went, a MSN exec was steps behind, and vica versa. Meanwhile, back in the United States, Microsoft employees are examining Google patents looking for potential weaknesses to exploit. Microsoft is obviously playing for keeps and appears to be preparing to head off the inevitable legal battles that will stem from the introduction of Microsoft’s new operating system, Longhorn, currently in development and scheduled for release early next year.

Longhorn and Search

Longhorn is the code-name for the new operating system from Microsoft. When it is released early next year, Longhorn is expected to change the way we relate to searching for information by integrating the function of search directly into the operating system itself. According to the hype, systems running Longhorn will treat any information ever viewed by machine-specific users as a searchable document. For example, if you receive an email regarding Blue Widgets, research Blue Widgets and write a review of Blue Widget products, you would have three documents consisting of 1 email, 1 website, and 1 Word doc. Two of the three information sources are stored on your hard-drive and one is stored on the web. All three are likely to be found through Longhorn’s search function. By changing the parameters of search technology, Microsoft is laying heavy money on the safe bet that users will quickly become dependent on Longhorn’s search tool. This is basically the same tactic used against Netscape when Internet Explorer was bundled into Windows95(v2.0) in 1996.

“You must learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t possibly live long enough to make them all yourself.” Sam Levenson (1911 – 1980)

Lessons for Google

Netscape was floored by the sudden switch of alliance in browser users and failed to adapt quickly enough. After being purchased at the height of the dot.com bubble by AOL, Netscape released it’s infamous (and doomed) version 6.0 which was full of bugs and did not even approach the versatility of Internet Explorer. The rest is pretty much history for Netscape and opportunity for Microsoft. IE now holds over 92% of the browser market with Netscape scraping less than 4%. The same phenomena may happen with Google, especially after the the recent Florida algorithm update in November and the recent Austin update seen in late January. While Google watchers continue to speculate on the what’s, where’s and whys of Google’s recent update, we all agree on at least one basic thing, Google is trying to create a better search tool in order to compete with MSN and Yahoo. Unfortunately for Google, the effect of the recent updates is highly reminiscent of Netscape v6.0, an obvious attempt to build a better mouse-trap that produced a product inferior to its predecessor.

“If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must man be of learning from experience.” George Bernard Shaw (1856 – 1950)


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