Google, Microsoft in Search Showdown: A Must-See for 2005

Opinion: While the search battle may not be the upcoming year's most important one, it will definitely be the most interesting. Will 2005 be the year that Microsoft catches up with Google on search?

Its always amazing to me the number of people at Microsoft who are working in a come-from-behind situation. To outsiders, its easy to focus on Microsofts big wins: operating systems and desktop applications. But inside Microsoft, its the new initiatives that take center stage, and this is where Microsoft as often as not has its back to the wall.

As I look forward to 2005, one of these battles looks really interesting. Its not the most significant Microsoft effort for next year, but it has the potential to change how almost all of us search for information online. Its the battle between Google (on the offensive) and Microsoft (on the defensive) for the titles of worlds best and most popular search engines.

I separate the titles since one company may not win them both. And while its unlikely that a third company will challenge the two big players for popularity in 2005, there remains a strong prospect that some third, fourth or fifth player will win the "best search engine" title. Probably not in 2005 and perhaps not before being acquired by MS or Google, but its important to keep our eyes open.

Also, notice that I said this would be the most "interesting" story to watch. Google versus Microsoft is a fun story, but barring some dramatic development elsewhere, the most important story in 2005 will be security—the topic of a future column.

But back to the battle at hand: By not taking Google seriously right from the start, Microsoft now finds itself way behind and may be unable to close the gap. Not doing so would allow Google to fully implement some sort of information search and management platform, not as a replacement for a traditional desktop but still in a manner capable of sending Bill and Steve into apoplexy.

Redmond has already lost the first battles of the search technology war, but it is playing a strong come-from-behind game. While the beta of the new Microsoft search engine isnt perfect, Google itself leaves a lot to be desired in consistently producing useful results. Make no mistake: Search is still very much in play.

/zimages/2/28571.gifRead more here about the search beta from Microsofts MSN division.

Googles failings are particularly a problem when looking for content versus commerce. Google really needs to suppress results that are merely pages produced by other search engines, typically of product pricing. Its also frustrating to enter the name of someone Im interested in, such as a recording artist, and get a zillion catalog page results before any useful information about the artist appears.

Next Page: Microsofts search beta has yet to prove itself.