Monday, May 1, 2006

Browser Wars Redux: Microsoft Seeks First-Visit Status for Consumers and Enterprise Content

Microsoft's new beta version of its Internet Explorer browser (Forbes) is in many ways a catch-up to accommodate those who have come to appreciate the features of Mozilla's Firefox browser. It's a move reminiscent of the intense effort to re-launch IE some ten years ago to counter the then-dominant Netscape browser. As in that earlier era, the Microsoft strategy is to match rivals feature-for-feature with little twists that give the home team an advantage such as having a toolbar search box that defaults to Microsoft's Web search engine. In comparison, the toolbar search box in Firefox defaults to the Google browser, though there is no formal relationship with Google to enforce that advantage. Yet Google grouses in today's New York Times about unfair practices by Microsoft in setting their search tool's default to their own search engine. This seems like kind of a pouty response to a proven competitive tactic - one that's worked to Google's advantage amongst the many Google-friendly tie-ins from Web software developers.

Microsoft is going full-bore to realign its online initiatives to go head-to-head with Google wherever possible, even as they push "the user comes first" as their new mantra to soften its aggressive image. While the NYT article highlights the potential impact on ad dollars as a key concern of Google's in this reinvigorated competition for online audience, there is plenty of potential fallout from enterprise markets as well, where Google has an enormous lead over Microsoft in user mindshare for providing high-quality business information that it's trying to leverage into enterprise-based services. While it's far from clear that Microsoft's efforts will stem its competitive woes its powerful technology assets are becoming well aligned for the first serious across-the-board challenge to Google's emerging Web dominance. That's good news for content consumers, who will benefit from greater choice in high-quality services, and in some ways hopefully good news for Google, inasmuch as the competition will challenge them not to assume that they always know users the best in every venue.
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