Is Google the Next Netscape?

The trick of starting successful products is finding things that people need and don’t already exist; or to find things that do exist, but can be improved a lot. Take search engines for example. Before Google, search engines weren’t great. The best there was was “Altavista”:http://www.altavista.com, which, as you may remember, returned a big pile of junk which you still had to dig through yourself. Google made sure that what you looked for was always on top.

Google reinvented the web search engine and constantly pushed its limits. Microsoft had a search engine, but it wasn’t very good. A year ago or so they decided to put effort into building a product that could compete with Google. Trouble is that by now everybody already used Google. Hell, googling has become a verb. I google, you google, he or she googles.

So, what do you do? Well, you pull an IE(Internet Explorer) on them; you integrate your product into your other products that everybody uses already. Like Microsoft’s new MSN Search, IE had to start from zero. Netscape owned the market. So, what did Microsoft do? Integrate it into Windows. If there’s already a browser preinstalled, why install another one? This tactic doesn’t exactly map onto web applications, but what Microsoft is doing with MSN Search now is fairly similar.

It started a while ago, I don’t even know when. In IE there’s a search bar that automatically searched using MSN Search. Also, when you type in a wrong URL it will automatically perform a search for that URL on MSN Search. This IE integration has been there for ages. What’s newer is their new “MSN toolbar”:http://beta.toolbar.msn.com that, among other features, gives you desktop search and… a convenient way to search MSN. But this is something that nearly all search engines have by now. Google has the “Google toolbar”:http://toolbar.google.com/googlebar.html and “Google desktop”:http://desktop.google.com search. I have no doubt that Yahoo! has something similar as well by now.

The newest push was done by the “MSN Messenger team”:http://blogs.msdn.com/msnsearch/archive/2005/04/08/406643.aspx yesterday, by adding a new feature to MSN Messenger 7.0 called shared search. Now you can search the internet from a MSN messenger chat window and together with the one you’re talking to, browse the search results. Of course it uses MSN Search as its search engine:

MSN Shared Search

Results:

MSN Shared Search

I wonder what the next step will be. Will MSN Search be integrated into Windows Longhorn or Office? Will Google be able to win this one, or is Google the next Netscape?