Microsoft VS Google

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 The battle for your attention is on  




  Most of us start our online session with Google. Does that sound good to Microsoft? The Redmond software giant is notorious for invading any business area others aspire to make their mark in. Look at the trend: The virtual wipe out of Mozilla, Netscape by introduction and integration of IE in Windows, launch of MS Money to counter Quicken, Windows Media Player to rival Real Player and others, and MSN Messenger to draw millions of chatters away from ICQ and AOL. Can MS pull a win over Google? It's indeed a question worth our time.

It is believed that online search would be transformed drastically once the competition between MS and Google goes head to head. Both companies will roll out new services trying to widen and retain their customer base. Drawing parallels between Netscape, MS hopes it can take advantage of its OS integration options to outweigh its rivals but Google is not going to be budged easily.

Developed by two Stanford students,' Google is a tougher challenge that MS has faced in a long time. Bill Gates admires the 'high level of I.Q.' displayed by Google architects and regrets why MS not taking the search market seriously, "We took an approach that I now realize was wrong", followed by the usual MS expression: 'We will catch them'. Yusuf Mehdi, Vice President at the MSN division, has made his company's intentions clear in no discreet terms at a conference in May: "We are investing a lot to build what we expect  and hope will be the best-in-class search service in the near future."
MS plans to use MSN as launch pad of
its search innovation (view the beta version
at and use it
to enhance their popular portal. Meanwhile,
efforts are underway to develop and prefect
the search technique so that it can be
integrated in the next revolutionary version
of Windows called Longhorn.

OS Integrated & Desktop Based Search
MS is likely to cash in on its ability to integrate every new product (rivaling a current industry leader) in its OS to make its own search a de-facto search standard. Think of IE with a search toolbar or 'Search Files or Folders' with a checkbox captioned 'Search Online'.

The major problem in getting users to use MS search is to build trust that is at present tilted heavily in favor of Google. Offering MSN-based search, MS will have to consider ways in which users will respond, Do the ads turn them off, do they think results are relevant? Once MSN establishes itself as a reputable and dependable search engine (say, first in view of majority of MSN Messenger users) then it's quite sure that those users won't be reluctant to use Longhorn's web search (OS based) instead of opting for Google. 'Ease of use' is one of the slogans that it could use to sell MS search. Think of this keeping in mind the IE experience--who could have thought one could type www. in Start*Run or anywhere in an address bar (including that of MS Word and Windows Explorer).

What gives MS an edge is the fact that all it needs to do is concentrate on quality and technology. MS is least bothered about making profits right away (although paid ad placements are going to play a huge role in search engines), knowing that once it is able to compete with and oust Google; eventually it'll get the golden eggs. Google has forseen this coming by a mile which is why their toolbar is already in the market. It's now certain that both MS and Google will be bracing themselves for tough competition with each other on both fronts-- online and on the desktop. And to win here requires both of them to be 'best-of-the- breed', offering latest search techniques to give users the best possible search experience. Query Anticipation is one such area of research.

Query Anticipation
Search engines of the future will display different results for users typing in the same keywords. Query Anticipation is all about-knowing customers, their preferences and what they mean when they request results for a particular word. To do this, search engines would monitor user activities (the Google toolbar traces your visits), noting which results users click on, how they fine tune the next search, and finally which sites do they browse frequently that relate to that particular keyword.

MS aims at taking query anticipating to the next level by making use of offline searches to influence online searching. Say, for example, if a user browses through his medical CDs and files on the hard disk to search 'heart disease', his online search for the same keyword would rank medical
sites and cardiovascular consultants at the top. Someone looking for 'heart ache' in their multimedia files would be shown song lyrics and movies with the words 'heart ache' somewhere in title or description (possibly returning 'sweet heart' toot). Obviously, both of these scenarios pry on privacy but the option could be turned on/off. So, be prepared for the next OS remembering your activities and searches: Docs, PDFs, MP3s, movies you dump (possibly counting the number of times you pause on J Lo!) or how many times you play a certain genre or band--every bit of data would be used to anticipate your search needs.

Googie doesn't have access to offline user habits therefore it is aggressively pursuing technologies like Applied Semantics to 'learn' from user behavior, taking into account abandoned searches, positions of clicks and integrating these factors to refine search algorithms.

Geo Targeting
Currently, Google AdSense and AdWords show relevant ads when we run a search. The ads titled Sponsored Ads are a major source of revenue for Google, and a source of reach for the advertisers as Google delivers around 200 million searches on an average day (Source: Washington Post).

Expanding this ad accessibility by targeting customers in their geographical location is known as Geo Targeting, The technology is being tested by Google and Yahoo and is expected to be shipped with Longhorn as well. Using localized knowledge, search engines would be able to point business links in the area of user's residence or current location.

Futuristic Options
Offering unheard-of services first will mean success in the search engine business. Talking about what a future search engine should try to achieve, Robert Scoble, an employee at MS and a frequent bLogger, says that speech recognition could revolutionize the way we search especially over the cell phone. Combining this with Geo Targeting and image recognition could be key features. Scoble admits that Google has the edge at present, "Google has done an awesome job so far. I use Google dozens of times a day. Will MSN (search) be able to deliver more relevant results than Google? I don't know. Certainly that's not the case today. Will that change tomorrow? I'm waiting to see what the brains at MSN do."

Advertising Factor
Users might see new forms of advertising once Longhorn incorporates search right into the OS. It is also predicted that Longhorn might display 'best picks' listings. MS plans to offer its search results page to advertisers just like Google and to make this more efficient is one of the areas of research MS is focusing on. "We're really close to finding out what realty strikes consumers as the most relevant search results," says product manager Karen Redetzki. Once these 'most relevant search results' are found out, targeted ads would become more relevant. We don't know whether MS has mastered such techniques yet, nonetheless Jim Altchin, an executive at MS was quoted on saying, "Google is a very nice system, but compared to my vision, it's pathetic." To some, this might sound  arrogant boastfulness or pure rhetoric, but it's also a fair chance that MS is really cooking something hot. Currently, Microsoft's paid listings are sold through Overture, a go-between company that has been acquired by Yahoo. Microsoft has already broken its relationship with LookSmart, another paid listing company, and plans to shift away from such partnerships in future. Having an estimated worth of US$2 billion during this year, ads contribute enormous profit to the search industry.

Google's Response
Industry experts cite examples of Netscape turning to portal (from the browser business) and RealNetworks turning to content service (from the media player business) and predict Google will go on to become a web portal. We have seen Google offering numerous other services in addition to search. Google has also gone public like MS and Yahoo by offering its shares to raise money (IPO). It is estimated that annual profits of Google range between US$250 and US$500 million and with additional funds through public offering, it is suspected that Google might go on a shopping spree taking in Netscape or acquiring AOL from Time Warner. Even if Google doesn't go 'portal', it will still have to continue to offer unique features to stay ahead. For example, take the a grand underground project known as Project Ocean. The idea is to digitize millions of books at the Stanford Library published before 1923, no longer bearing copyright restrictions.

Who's going to win?
For MS, revenue generation is not an immediate priority. MS has plenty of memories about its Ultimate TV set-top box which didn't do well to rival established market leaders. They don't want to repeat their mistakes, but would like to enter the search business only when they know what they are doing. MS is believed to have invested heavily in R&D (US$7 billion annually) and their research shows only 30% to 50% of the searches carried out at MSN are relevant. To increase this percentage, MS is relying on its development team. They are also in a good position to buy pre- built solutions having abundant financial resources.

Google on the other hand shows no sign of shying away. It has given out programming interface to developers, that enable them to incorporate Google information in their applications. Google meets the market requirements quite consistently.

Google holds the top slot in the search
market today. reports that the
global share of search traffic at Google has
in fact increased slightly during the last five
months. Their listing of top 7 search
engines posted on reads:
1 Google  > 56.4%
2 Yahoo  > 21.1%
3 MSN Search  9.2%
4 AOL Search 3.8%
5 Terra Lycos 2.0%
6 Altavista 1.7%
7 AskJeves 1.7%
Ultimately, whoever provides better results will win.





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