Year in Review: Search Gets Ready to Rumble

Opinion: The Web search market becomes a battle among Google, Microsoft and Yahoo and a rush to extend the reach and profit potential of search.

For the leading companies in the search-engine market, 2004 was a year to fortify their services for the fight ahead.

As the year ends, the battle line lies among three top competitors: Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc. Waiting in the wings are Ask Jeeves Inc, which doubled its search share during the year, and a rash of startup companies hoping to reinvent search the way Google reinvigorated it with its PageRank and other technologies.

Yahoo made the first major move of the year, dropping Google for its own search-engine results. The switchover was nearly a year in the making and resulted from Yahoos earlier acquisitions of Overture Services Inc. and Inktomi Corp.

Yet Yahoo is about to reap what it has sown. Inktomi, now merged into Yahoos search-engine technology, powers Microsofts MSN Search site, and Bill Gates isnt about to be left relying on its top Internet competitor for its search future.

Microsoft, in no uncertain terms, declared its entrance into the search wars this year. The germ of its efforts was unveiled earlier in November, the beta of MSN Search powered with its own crawler and algorithm.

Early 2005 is expected to bring another major search-engine flip, once MSN drops Yahoo and switches to its technology.

Amid the turnover of results, Google reinforced its leading position with an initial public offering that brought it $1.7 billion. The Mountain View, Calif., company, almost immediately put its newfound riches to use with the launch of a raft of new services and applications.

/zimages/4/28571.gifWhy was Googles IPO so important? Click here to read more.

The most intriguing was the beta launch of Google Desktop Search because it marks Googles most aggressive push onto users desktops. With the application, users can combine an index of their own files, chats, e-mails and Web browser histories with Googles index of about 8 billion Web pages.

Even before finishing its public offering, Google not only pursued but also tried to one-up its competitors. Take Web-based e-mail, once the domain of Yahoo and MSNs Hotmail. Google decided to give away a huge amount of storage—1GB, to be exact—with its April Gmail beta and ignited a storage and features race.

Next Page: The major trends in search.