May 1st, 2006
In response to a new feature in Microsoft’s upcoming Internet Explorer 7 web browser, Google has issued a complaint with the Justice Department that the browser doesn’t give users enough choice because it defaults to using the MSN web search, according to this NYTimes piece.
The new feature, a search box located in the top right hand corner of the browser window, is very similar to the ones currently included on other existing browsers. Here is what the feature looks like in my browser of choice, Firefox:
The feature allows users to type in a search query without first going to a search engine’s homepage. In this example, the search engine that will be used for the search is Google, which is also the default in Firefox. However, using the tiny dropdown arrow I can select from other search engines, including Yahoo and Amazon’s A9. In Internet Explorer 7, Microsoft will be using their own search engine, MSN Search, as the default. Microsoft does not have a search box in its current browser: IE 6.
There’s the rub. Even though the current crop of browsers with search boxes default to Google, Google doesn’t want Microsoft to be able to default to their own search engine. And for good reason, as this would dramatically affect users who make millions of search queries every day.
The Power of the Default
By filing this complaint, Google is acknowledging the Power of the Default. The Power of the Default is the observation that most users never change the default settings in software. In this case, it means that most users who upgrade to IE 7 will simply use the MSN search engine because it is the default choice.
In order to give them choice, Google says, users should be asked what search engine they want to use during the installation or upgrade of the browser. That way, users would clearly see that Google (and presumably other engines) are options in addition to MSN. In order to stay consistent with their argument, Google has gone so far as to say that they support this even for browsers on which they are already the default. This is a clear indication that Google is scared of the Power of the Default.
More generally, the Power of the Default is the primary way that Microsoft continues to enjoy a huge market share in the overall computer world. They were incredibly clever to write contracts with computer manufacturers that made Windows the default operating system on new machines. (just try to buy a Dell laptop without Windows) Because of this default, a large majority of people never realize that there are other options they could choose from.
And now Microsoft hopes to do the same with search. When IE 7 is released, it will be interesting to see if Google can overcome the Power of the Default.Tweet