Saturday, July 10, 2004

No, being on the Windows Start menu does not equate to killing Google

Someone posted to Dave Farber's mailing list a claim that Microsoft will win over Google because their search is on the Windows Start menu. Sure, that gives Bill Gates a leg up out of the starting block, but it doesn't guarantee a win at the finish line. Remember, Smarty Jones was a lock to win the Triple Crown.

Whenever I speak to a large audience I ask what their favorite search engine is. Invariably it's Google, no matter who the audience is. Google became the number one search engine after Windows 98 was released -- and Inktomi was the default when you clicked Start / Search.

Here's my retort to this foolish claim:

The claim that Windows Start placement means automatic victory is
logical, appealing, right-sounding, even seductive -- and it is
demonstrably false.

It is exactly the same claim that I heard the CEO of Inktomi make in
1998. Windows 98 would go to Inktomi when you clicked on Start /
Search. "That's it" I thought "They've won the battle." Here's what
I wrote about it at that time:

Dr. Eric Brenner, one of the founders and the Chief Technology Officer
of Inktomi, described how Inktomi serves as a back-end to a variety of
well-known commercial search services: Hot Bot, N22, Anzwers, and the
NTT goo service in Japan. Inktomi will also be the default search
service for the Microsoft home page, for MSN, and for the Start button
under Windows 98. Anzwers Australia and New Zealand Web Enguiry
Research System) represent a partnership between Inktomi and the
Australian ISP Ozemail.

At the time, it looked like Inktomi had conquered the world. Then
Google happened. Their superior relevancy trumped whatever was on the
Start menu. The world gravitated their way. Today, do not
underestimate Google's mindshare.

Don't get me wrong. Microsoft can still win. They understand
manually-chosen Best Bets, whereas Google does not, only believing in
its robots.

But don't think the Start menu placement leads to automatic search
engine success. History has already proven that theory wrong.


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