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September 8, 2006

The Lesson of Windows Search

Microsoft has never considered search important. As a proof of this affirmation, here's how Windows XP handles this feature:

* no search box for Internet Explorer 6.

"If you want to find information quickly, you can type go, find, or ? followed by the text you want to search for, in the address bar of Internet Explorer," writes Windows XP Help. Or you can use the sidebar.

* inline search dialog that gets in your way (standard Find dialog)

* desktop search that doesn't use an index by default, so it's mostly useful to search file names. However, the UI has a cute dog.

* Windows indexing service is difficult to configure and consumes a lot of resources. It's also buggy.

In Vista, Microsoft shifted the priorities and decided to include a search box in IE7 that uses MSN Search by default. The indexing service has been improved and it's now enabled by default. There's a search box in most applications, in Windows Explorer, in the Start Menu, and Control Panel.

Microsoft seems to follow the reverse path: Google started with search, and now wants to convince people to use its applications. Microsoft started by developing applications, and now they want to do search.

Sergey Brin said in a Playboy interview: "Ironically, toward the end of the 1990s most of the portals started as search engines. Yahoo was the exception, but Excite, Infoseek, HotBot and Lycos began as search engines. They diversified and didn’t take searching as seriously as they should have. Searching was viewed as just another service, one of 100 different services. With 100 services, they assumed they would be 100 times as successful. But they learned that not all services are created equal. Finding information is much more important to most people than horoscopes, stock quotes or a whole range of other things—which all have merit, but searching is substantially more important. They lost sight of that. It’s why we started Google in the first place. We decided that searching is an important problem that requires serious concentration. That continues to be our focus."

My question would be: has Microsoft learned that search is important or they just use this feature to show they are a serious competitor to Google?

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