Hey kids, remember the Browser Wars? They took place wayyyyyy back in the mid-1990s when Microsoft realized that the Web as experienced via Netscape could steal the desktop right out from under their thumb. So they figured, “we gotta get us a piece of that action,” and launched Internet Explorer.
Which totally sucked for a couple of iterations, until IE 4, which was good enough to combine with their natural monopoly on the business user and eventually lead to Netscape’s downfall.
This all took a few years, and anybody working on the Web at that period had to do QA testing for about a dozen different Browser/Operating System combinations. My guess is that many were somewhat happy for MS to win the browser wars, even as they mourned a technology that essentially changed the world.
Fast-forward nearly a decade, and sure enough, the Web has pretty much replaced the desktop, and once again Microsoft is using Internet Explorer to try to claim territory that has made another company crazy rich.
That company is Google, and that territory is search. At issue is a brand-new functionality that has been baked into Internet Explorer 7: a built-in search box which defaults to — can it be? — MSN’s search, not Google’s.
Google contends that this puts Microsoft in a position to unfairly grab Web traffic and advertising dollars from its competitors.
The move, Google claims, limits consumer choice and is reminiscent of the tactics that got Microsoft into antitrust trouble in the late 1990s.
Microsoft, of course, says “who us?”
It says the default settings in the browser, Internet Explorer 7, are easy to change. And it says the product was designed with consumers and many partners in mind–even though it might not be to the liking of Google, the leading search engine.
So is this the restart of the Browser wars, where, like the Cylons, Microsoft is back for another round? Not really, even if IE 7 ends up looking a lot like Firefox, which has actually made some slight inroads into IE’s dominance. But only slight.
Firefox — which has an integrated search that defaults to Google and doesn’t even have MSN search as an option — caters to those who mourned the demise of Netscape; the open source fanatics and people who just plain. don’t. like. Microsoft. It would be an actual threat to IE if those traits weren’t usually rolled up into the same person.
In this case, it’s not really browser dominance that Microsoft is aiming for; but if it’s not the Browser Wars 2.0, what is it? The Search Wars? Maybe, but we gotta remember that Google still has a technological advantage in the mind of the public that Netscape never had. Netscape was first, but that didn’t necessarily make them best; but Google — who wasn’t the first, if you remember — has been considered the best for so long it may not even matter whether or not that’s true any more.
In the end, this is really the latest salvo in a Yankees vs. Red Sox battle between Microsoft and Google, as each company tries to turn eyeballs into revenue in the second half of this decade.
And if Net Neutrality goes away, you can envision a scenario where Microsoft’s search works faster with some carriers and Google’s search works faster with other carriers, depending on the deals struck.