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Is Google the Next Netscape?

By Cynthia L. Webb
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 10, 2004; 9:40 AM

Microsoft might be king of the software world, but it's having to play catch up in the increasingly important world of Internet and desktop search, chasing the substantial leads of Google, Yahoo and others.

Various media outlets today reveal that Microsoft will unveil its search tool tomorrow. While the company has been mum on specifics, it appears that Google -- which beat Gates & Co. out of the gates last month when it unveiled its Desktop Search tool -- can breathe easy, for now.

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Microsoft's search engine appears half baked, according to the Associated Press: "The preview that begins Thursday won't include technology to let people search their own computer desktops as well as the broader Internet. But the company has promised that desktop search functionality by year's end."

The AP noted that "Microsoft has long offered a search engine on its MSN Web site, but the technology behind it has been powered by subsidiaries of Yahoo Inc. Earlier this year, the Redmond-based software giant conceded that it had missed a large market opportunity by not developing its own search technology, and announced plans to launch its own search engine."
The Associated Press via washingtonpost.com: Microsoft To Preview New Search Engine (Registration required)

"Word of the introduction of the service ... was leaked on Tuesday after the company began phoning reporters offering briefings for Wednesday. A company spokeswoman declined comment on the announcement," the New York Times reported. "Microsoft will stress the size and completeness of its service, according to several people with knowledge of the announcement."
The New York Times: At Last, A Microsoft Search Tool (Registration required)

Target Google

Search is not the first arena in which Microsoft has been slow to start, as The Wall Street Journal reminded its readers: "Microsoft brings a big wallet and a track record of coming from behind in areas that it deems critical. The company belatedly recognized the importance of the Internet and ultimately steamrolled Netscape Communications in Web browser software." The newspaper noted that "[a]t the company's annual meeting yesterday, Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer vowed to beat its search competitors. 'We will catch up, and we will surpass,' he said."
The Wall Street Journal: Microsoft To Launch Challenge To Google, Yahoo (Subscription required)

The Seattle Times in its coverage reported: "Yesterday, Chairman Bill Gates told shareholders that the [company's search] timeline would be stepped up a bit. 'We have a lot of new things coming up in search,' he said during the company's annual shareholder meeting." The Financial Times reported: "The launch of the Microsoft search engine could pose one of the first big challenges to Google's break-neck growth. It could also turn the increasingly global search engine business into an American triumvirate, cementing US dominance of the most significant new area of online commerce to have emerged since the dotcom bust."
The Seattle Times: Is Microsoft Rolling Out Its Search Engine?
The Financial Times: Microsoft To Launch Internet Search Engine

Don't Worry Sergey and Larry

But a piece in BusinessWeek still gives Google the edge by a long shot: "Despite the deep pockets and hefty reputations of Microsoft and Yahoo, Google will be tough to catch. With its Spartan Web interface and fast-loading pages, it has locked in a loyal base of users. Even as Yahoo launched its own search product early this year, backed by a big branding push, Google steadily gained market share."
BusinessWeek: Google, Meet Microsoft

Google might be able to rest easy for a few years, according to one expert: "I think Microsoft is a couple of years from doing anything serious, but it's a reminder that the big bad evil beast is out there," John Tinker, an analyst who covers Google for San Francisco-based ThinkEquity Partners told the New York Times. The Journal offered a similar analyst comment: "Scott Kessler, an analyst at Standard & Poor's in New York, says Microsoft's move into search is significant, but that the company is 'well behind Google and Yahoo in terms of consumer perceptions about search. It's going to be an uphill battle for them.'"

And imitation appears to be the highest form of flattery in search. The Times of London had a sneak peek of Microsoft's new tool: "Although nobody knows for sure what the Microsoft search site will look like, a technical preview seen by Times Online appeared to have been based on the clean lines of Google, rather than the ad-and-offer-heavy Yahoo site."
The Times of London: Microsoft Squares Up To Google

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