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The Searchers

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Technology and business news doesn't come much bigger than Microsoft's $44bn bid for Yahoo, which was announced on Friday. With a number that large on the table, it can't help but reinforce the ludicrous amount of financial muscle that Microsoft has behind it - is there anything in the world that Gates' empire couldn't get its hands on? But for me, it wasn't the size of the bid that I found ridiculous, more the reasoning behind it.

You see Microsoft is citing the dominance of Google as its reasoning for making this audacious offer for Yahoo. Despite the fact that Yahoo itself isn't faring particularly well against the might of Google, the big MS feels that two struggling search strategies are somehow better than one. But no matter how I look at it, I can't help but find it amusing that Microsoft, of all companies, should be fighting the "good fight" against a potential monopoly in the market place.

Microsoft's anti-competitive legal troubles have been well documented, and its decision to bundle applications like its Internet Explorer web browser into Windows caused third party solutions to fall by the wayside. Unfortunately, most consumers aren't going to pay for something, when they're already getting something similar for nothing. As each version of Windows has surfaced, the amount of built-in functionality has grown, thus allowing Microsoft to dominate the operating system and application market.

The Internet search arena is very different though, since search engines have always been free to use, and therefore consumers have tended to use the one that works best for them, despite what they have been presented with when firing up the browser on their PC. Of course Microsoft has still tried to push users towards MSN search, or more recently Live search, but since it costs the end user nothing to set their home page to Google, most of them do.

I can still remember when the search engine you used was a very personal choice, usually based on the type of things you searched for. For a long time I was an Altavista user, while colleagues and friends all used a mixture of Yahoo, Lycos, Excite and countless others. But slowly, Google started to take over. More and more users found that Google consistently returned more relevant search results, more quickly than other engines, and found themselves switching allegiance, while also recommending Google to their friends.

Now it's fair to say that Google is the de facto Internet search engine, a situation that's reinforced by the fact that Google is widely regarded as a verb - you don't use Google to find something anymore, you simple Google for it! By contrast Yahoo tried to turn its brand into a verb for years through marketing - remember all those "Do you Yahoo?" TV ads? The simple answer these days would be, "No, but I do Google".

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