So they finally did it. The months of will-they-or-won't-they dissolved into years before Microsoft and Yahoo finally forged a marriage, of sorts. Reams are being written about what the deal means for advertisers, for investors and for the companies themselves. Really, though, it all boils down to one question: what will users do?

Let's say they do create a search engine that's better than Google - way better than Google. Will it matter? Will users use it?

Much has and will be said by Ballmer, Bartz, the media and the pundits about "innovation" and the advantages of combining two powerhouses to be greater than the sum of their parts. Perhaps Microsoft and Yahoo can pull this off. 

Google is widely regarded to have the superior product in this now two-horse race, despite Bing's very respectable debut. Yet even combining Yahoo and Bing bring Microsoft up to only a 21 percent share of the US search marketplace, and very significantly less elsewhere in the world.  Even if Microhoo does eventually offer a superior search product doesn't mean users will follow.

No technology company is in a better position to understand this than Microsoft, as it turns out. After all, its fame, considerable fortune and renown are centered squarely on its reputation as a software manufacturer, and no software is more central to its success than the Windows operating system. And Windows is, hands down, arguably (to many, not at all arguably) the worst OS on the market. Yet its market share, while slipping, still hovers around 90 percent.

Some will tell you Linux is the way to go, others swear by Apple. Vista has been a fiasco. IE is riddled with bugs and security holes. But Windows isn't going away any time soon. The sky is blue, the sun rises in the East, and the vast majority of computer users just kind of expect Windows to load when they boot their machines.

By the same token, Google=search. Sure, it's a verb. But it's also a mindset, one as ingrained as Windows.

In blind taste tests, Pepsi has reliably trounced Coke in Pepsi Challenge after Pepsi Challenge for the past 35 years. Where the rubber meets the road it just doesn't matter. Coke's the market leader.

If Microsoft really wants to dominate seach, that's exactly the mindset they're going to have to turn around -- even if they're better.

Rebecca Lieb

Published 29 July, 2009 by Rebecca Lieb

Rebecca Lieb oversees Econsultancy's North American operations.

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Comments (3)

Joe Friedlein

Joe Friedlein, Director at Browser Media

"The sky is blue"

Not over here in the UK it is not! I think I need to emigrate...

On a serious note, I agree fully with what you say and actually raised the Windows v. Linux comparison with Chris as I think it speaks volumes about the challenge that Microhoo will have.

I remember very clearly sitting through a private demo of Yahoo's new Panama platform prior to its launch, which looked pretty decent, but then questioned whether the fancy new features would really make any difference to their market share.

Their response was one of surprise (with a degree of scorn and I haven't been invited back to see them!) and their assumption was that the masses would flock to Yahoo as their results would suddenly become superior to those on Google.

This remains the real issue - until there is a compelling reason to move away from Google (e.g. sudden failure to find relevant results), I just can't see it happening on a big scale.

Yes, I have been messing around with Bing and like it, but still use Google for most searches as it does a good job for me. Perhaps more importantly, Google is everywhere and very accessible (e.g. browser search boxes) and user apathy will prevent the migration to Yahoo.

Still interesting times and I would welcome a serious challenger to Google, but am not holding my breath on this one if I am brutally honest.

Joe

www.browsermedia.co.uk

over 8 years ago

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at Econsultancy, Centaur MarketingStaff

My money is on Google. Microsoft can spend all the marketing money they want but unless their products are a quantum step better than Google's then they won't catch up.

Google was experientially miles different from Alta Vista (the dominant search engine at the time) when it came out. It was totally different, and way better. That kind of step change is needed for Google to be even near threatened in search.

Until Yahoo / Microsoft or whoever can come up with better products, and out-innovate, Google then they've no hope. And Google is still leaving them all for dead at the moment; the rest are just too slow, Microsoft in particular:

Google Analytics came out before Microsoft could get its 'Gatineau' equivalent out of the door and that project has apparently died.

Google Maps came out before Microsoft had any decent mapping technology. And now they do, it's too late and Google Maps is ubiquitous.

The list goes on...

Google is launching their ad exchange (based on their DoubleClick acquisition) which will eat into Yahoo's display heartland (and compete with RightMedia, owned by Yahoo!). Microsoft says it might have an ad exchange in two years?!

Google Wave is way more exciting and innovative than anything Bing has to offer.

Android and Google Chrome OS are whole new platforms that threaten to eat into Microsoft's OS heartland even though that might take time.

From where I'm sitting Google is leaving Microsoft for dust and Yahoo! is becoming a side show media owner which owns some good brands.

A more interesting possible battle now, to me, is between Google and Apple. They're friends at the moment but becoming 'frenemies' - Apple has banned the use of Google Voice within iPhone apps... I reckon they're on a collision course in many areas. 

over 8 years ago

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Shannon Evans

This is all very interesting; however, what is of greater interest to me is how will Bing and Yahoo or Binghoo/Ying deal with local search? Each has a local search component that are quite similar. How will they compete with Google's local search? How will they compete with Google product search mega catalog listing? These will all be interesting scenarios to watch play out as they unite forces against the evil Sith lord...oh sorry! That is another drama that keeps playing out over and over. Seriously, all of this will play out according to end user popularity. Let's take the Pepsi analogy one step further. In the south we ask our guests, "Would you like something to drink?"  To which they respond, "Yes! Do you have any Cokes?" and the attentive host/hostess responds, "What kind of coke do you want?" The guest replies, "What type do you have?" And the host goes through the list, "We have Dr. Pepper, Diet Dew, Pepsis, and Sprite...you name it...we got it!" So I am now off to Bing to Google more about this Yahoo/Microsoft deal!

over 8 years ago

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