Jun 032008

Fierce competition is back on the web browser front. After Microsoft crushed the Netscape challenge in the mid to late 90’s, Microsoft Explorer cruised for years as the overwhelming leader in the web browser market. It still is, with approximately 75% market share. But out of the Netscape defeat rose the Mozilla Foundation, a non-profit that launched the open source Firefox browser and has been refining it since. Here’s a good overview from Brad Stone of the NY Times:


Yesterday Microsoft struck back announcing a deal with Hewlett-Packard. Starting in January 2009 Microsoft’s Live Search will be the default search engine on all HP computers, taking that spot away from Yahoo. The deal is for North America only — Microsoft probably decided it has enough anti-trust issues right now with the European Union. Danny Sullivan of SearchEngineLand has a typically good piece, highlighting the US market share numbers of the various PC manufacturer/search engine alliances. I also like the idea he floats — why not cut consumers in with lower PC prices when the manufacturer gets big $$ from the search companies?

It fails to mention that HP will gain cash through the deal for effectively selling out their users. That’s not to single out Microsoft. The Google-Dell deal is exactly the same situation. Yes, in both cases, the computer owners are getting access to good search resources. But maybe the vendors should charge less for computer where they benefit by choosing for the consumer? Or maybe they need to disclose more fully why the defaults are the way they are?


But the struggle isn’t over when the default is set. Users can of course change their search option. Or they can be cajoled/coerced into doing so. Here’s a piece from Danny last year on that mostly behind-the-scenes battle:


There is one element of the HP/MS deal Danny doesn’t focus on, maybe because its not related to search. In addition to Live Search being the default on HP computers, Microsoft’s Silverlight animation software will be built in as well. This is the MS product that competes with Flash, and having millions of computers on the market that can view Silverlight without needing any plug-ins should be a big market advantage. Ars Technica thinks that will end up being more significant than the default search element:


Personally I prefer Firefox. It seems faster than Explorer, and useful add-ons like the Alexa traffic reader are easy to implement. I don’t mind that Firefox has decided for me that Google should be my default choice for search — at least not yet. We users need to remember we can always make up our own minds.

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