Search Wars! - MSNs Opening Salvo

By: Robert Palmer

With all the recent publicity given to Google as the Internet's number one search service, it's hardly surprising that Microsoft has already started work on re-vamping their MSN search service. Okay, it's still powered by the Yahoo engine, but according to Microsoft it has been "cleaned up" and the new service mirrors much more the kind of "non-commercial" results which are currently displayed by Google.

Costing some $100 in development costs and lost advertising revenues, MSN's makeover offer the end-user a much more uncluttered screen and again this aesthetic change mirrors the simple interface of Google. Results too are served quicker than the old system, or so Microsoft claim, although they supply no data on how this compares to Google.

The web search market is currently dominated by Google and Yahoo although Microsoft are now openly stating that they will be edging their own search engine into this market by the end of 2004.

This mega-upgrade, which is currently undergoing full testing at Microsoft, breaks away from the Yahoo engine and be powered by their own software engine and algorithms which will, they claim, enable people to search for what they want rather than be presented with a number of paid/sponsored results.

Should this happen, the move away from paid-for results will be a big step for Microsoft, who, in the past, have come under universal criticism, as end-users have not had confidence that the results served to them were unbiased.

With the search needs of over 350 million people up for grabs, Microsoft are keen to dissuade people from using the other engines. But with over 80% of the current daily global Net searches being performed on Google, Microsoft have much work to do. But for those who fear for the future of Google with Microsoft breathing heavily down their neck, you might take comfort from a time, not so long ago, when Microsoft considered itself bigger than the Internet. Does anyone remember Microsoft Network? Thought not!

As for Google, while they do not have the same aggressive marketing culture as Microsoft, they are very inventive, creative and above all, they are already internationally successful; holding one of the most recognized brands in the world. Far from standing still, Google has quietly expanded its range of services and now even offers an affiliate scheme to webmasters to host Google Adsense Ad's on their websites. But perhaps it's a mark of the trust and confidence that people have in Google as a corporation, that their have the only affiliate scheme on the Net which does not specify up front what commision it will be paying.

I suspect that when the Seach Wars are finally concluded it will be the confidence end-users have in the results they are served which will win out and not necessarily the best or fastest technology. Currently of course, Google are streets and houses ahead of both Microsoft and Yahoo in the public confidence stakes and it will be interesting to see if this confidence can be maintained following Google's much publicized floatation on the Stock Market.

Microsoft may well find that winning public confidence in this war is harder than the creation of any technology they wish to introduce and in the end, just as they did with Apple, Microsoft may well consider buying into that confidence and snap up a major chunk of Google's stock.

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