Google and Microsoft Understand the Power of the Default

Joshua Porter

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:

Browser Search Box

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.

10 Responses to “Google and Microsoft Understand the Power of the Default”

  1. Josh Peters Says:

    Today I installed Google Earth on my work computer, only to find an option in the installer to “Make Google Search Your Default in Internet Explorer.” I have IE 7 Beta 2 installed, but chose not to check the box, as I didn’t care.

    The whole thing reeked of the Netscape 4 days. Have we learned nothing from the default wars of the late 90s? (unless we’ve learned that the winner of those wars wins overall)

  2. David Knapp Says:

    Ok, it’s obvious why Google is pissed about this, but who do they think they are? Microsoft is making their search the default for the browser they created. Plus, it’s not like someone can’t go and change the search widget to Google OR visit If Google made their own browser, they’d be entitled to default to their search as well, which is exactly what they would do.

  3. Jara Design Says:

    […] search engine because it is the default choice.” RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI Jara Design by David Jara, Email: Benevolence theme by TheronParlin. Syndicate entries using RSS and Comments (RSS). This theme contains valid XHTML and CSS. Powered by WordPress 2.0.2. […]

  4. Amy Hoy Says:

    Guys, I’m enjoying the content — but your logo should link back to your front page. And you should expand what UIE means somewhere other than the tiny print at the bottom.

  5. sloan Says:

    David, the argument is that Microsoft is using their monopoly in the desktop OS to create a monopoly in another market, namely search. This type of thing is similar to the first steps Microsoft took to embed their IE into the OS, and which was found time and again to be illegal. It is always that first step down a slipperly slope that is the one to be most concerned with.

  6. Noah Brier Says:

    You know it’s funny, in Firefox, I actually skip the search engine altogether. I just type my query into the address bar, which does a Google “I’m Feeling Lucky” search, sending me straight to the first result for my term. Could this become a regular interaction?

  7. It's perfectly legal Says:

    That’s so stupid. You could say that it’s illegal for microsoft to bind windows messenger and makes it difficult to uninstall. But making a program default is perfectly fine. That’s why when you install Windows, Mac OS, linux, you won’t be bombarded with questions like “Do you want your OS kernal to be default “Do you want to set Windows classic as default?” “Do you want to set IE as default?” Do you want to set outlook express as default?” and on and on and on…

    Otherwise, the installation time will exceed 2 hours!!!

  8. Caffeinated Gonzo! » K.I.S.S. Me Again Please Says:

    […] When it comes to search sites I agree with Bokardo who writes on his Social Web Design blog: Consider where Search is going: away from the home page. An increasing number of folks search on engines from the search box in the top right corner of their browser, without ever reaching the Google homepage. And with Microsoft planning on doing the same with IE7/MSN, it is clear that the homepage is becoming less and less important over time. Do people who use search from other starting points care whether they can find other stuff from the homepage? No, the thought never crosses their mind because they’re too busy searching for something of personal value. […]

  9. UIE Brain Sparks » Blog Archive » Yahoo Wants You Off Their Homepage Says:

    […] My guess is that this is an attempt to take market share away from Google, the default search option on Firefox, the browser I was using. If Yahoo can get Firefox users to switch from Google to their search engine, they’ll see a growth in advertising revenue. As you have probably heard, advertising revenue from search is a huge market, coveted by all and solely responsible for Google’s tremendous growth. A while ago I wrote about how Microsoft and Google understand the Power of the Default. Add Yahoo to that list . […]

  10. Tyson F. Gautreaux Says:

    The very crux of your writing whilst appearing agreeable at first, did not work properly with me personally after some time. Someplace within the sentences you managed to make me a believer but just for a while. I however have got a problem with your leaps in logic and you might do nicely to help fill in all those gaps. If you can accomplish that, I would certainly end up being impressed.

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