Sean O'Donnells Weblog
Jermey Zawodny believes that Google protesting Microsoft's decision to make MSN Search the default search engine for IE7 is a bit two faced. Judging from the mood of the comments on his post, Jeremy does not seem to be in the minority on this one either.
He is wrong and he is completely missing the point.
On the surface it certainly looks that way. Google is the default search engine on Firefox, Google have paid dell to make Google the default search engine on the computers they ship, Google is the default search engine on Safari and Google is the default search engine on opera. So it looks like MSN being the default on Internet Explorer 7 is no big deal, right? Wrong.
Google has an effective monopoly on web search; it does not have a monopoly on web browsers, PC's, or desktop operating systems. It is not leveraging any such monopoly to achieve its default status on many browsers. It is aggressively pursuing such deals in the best spirit of capitalism. If Microsoft has failed to pursue the same deals, that is Microsoft's fault. There was nothing to stop them approaching the Mozilla Foundation, Dell, Apple or Opera and striking exactly the same deal. With Microsoft pushing its own MSN Search service, Google does not enjoy the same level playing field when it comes to deciding the default search engine for Internet Explorer
We have Antitrust laws, and we have them for a reason. Remember the early browser wars? Microsoft suddenly realized that the Internet was not a passing fad, and even worse, horror of horrors they realized that the web browser was in fact a potential platform for application development. A platform that had the potential to make their treasured desktop operating system monopoly irrelevant. Microsoft performed an abrupt u-turn and decided that if this new platform was going to emerge they where damn well going to control it.
They bought IE from Spyglass and proceeded to bundle it with Windows. The problem here is not that they entered the market, but rather that they dumped a free product on the market, and used their monopoly on desktop operating systems to shut Netscape down. They did not do it by making a better browser; they did not do it by more effective marketing. They won because they controlled the desktop. They abused their monopoly position in one area to crush a competitor in a separate area.
If companies like Microsoft where allowed to do this, it would be very bad news for all of us. Not all big companies and monopolies are evil. Antitrust laws only apply to those that damage the economic environment of their competitors. If Microsoft is allowed to bundle whatever they like with their desktop, they can effectively eliminate any competitor in just about any type of desktop software development. After a while no one will bother to write desktop software because the environment does not allow effective competition. If Microsoft uses their monopoly in browser software to push people at specific web services (as they are now about to try and do in ie7), competitors like Google are not on a level playing field.
Microsoft is not the only monopoly which has been required to operate under these kinds of restrictions. The tie-in provisions in anti-trust law have been used to prevent IBM from forcing users of its machines to only use IBM punch cards back in the early days of computing. Kodak where prevented from tying the sale of replacement parts for its photocopiers to the sale of its repair services. This is all for the good of the consumer. IBM had to price its punch cards competitively, Kodak had to make sure its service engineers where as good as the independents, and that their prices stood up to competition. It forces Microsoft to build a better search engine than Google in order to win market share, not to simply leverage its existing monopoly to snatch that market share.
We all remember how the browser wars ended, Netscape died, and the IE development team where scattered to the four winds. Only now, with the increasing numbers of Firefox users, has Microsoft even bothered to reform a dedicated Internet Explorer Development Team. Unless you would like to see web search stagnate in the same manner, this is an issue you should be backing Google on.
This article at ITWire shows that thankfully some people have the right idea. Im also glad to see that Google is complaining to the EU and US now rather than waiting until its too late