Search wars

Charles Ferguson has a lengthy analysis of Google and Microsoft in the January edition of MIT Technology Review and how the search wars might play out over the next few years. Will Microsoft crush Google like it crushed Netscape? Ferguson bets on open standards and APIs as Google’s saving grace, creating a lock-in of tools and services.

Winning architectures are proprietary and difficult to clone, but they are also externally “open”—that is, they provide publicly accessible interfaces upon which a wide variety of applications can be constructed by independent vendors and users. In this way, an architecture reaches all markets, and also creates “lock-in”—meaning that users become captive to it, unable to switch to rival systems without great pain and expense.

More companies need to realize the power of the network and the ability of outside vendors to increase demand for services while creating products the provider does not have the time or imagination to invent.

Peter Norvig, the company’s director of search quality, told Technology Review, “We’ve had the API project for a few years now. Historically, it’s not been that important: it’s had one person, sometimes none. But we do think that this will be one important way to create additional search functions. Our mission is to make information available, and to that end we will create a search ecology. We know we need to provide a way for third parties to work with us. You’ll see us release APIs as they are needed.”

Wow. Only one person at Google responsible for supporting APIs?

Google should first create APIs for Web search services and make sure they become the industry standard. It should do everything it can to achieve that end—including, if necessary, merging with Yahoo. Second, it should spread those standards and APIs, through some combination of technology licensing, alliances, and software products, over all of the major server software platforms, in order to cover the dark Web and the enterprise market. Third, Google should develop services, software, and standards for search functions on platforms that Microsoft does not control, such as the new consumer devices. Fourth, it must use PC software like Google Desktop to its advantage: the program should be a beachhead on the desktop, integrated with Google’s broader architecture, APIs, and services. And finally, Google shouldn’t compete with Microsoft in browsers, except for developing toolbars based upon public APIs. Remember Netscape.

Microsoft can bundle search with the next version of Windows Server just as it delivered SharePoint with Windows Server 2003. Google needs to make a play for this pure software space instead of relying on the hardware bundle. I think desktop search will continue to be controlled by Microsoft and Google will be confined to market share similar to Firefox unless Google has a major distinguishing desktop search offering such as exclusive content.

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