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Microsoft versus Google? 19 January 2004 Edition
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If reports are to be believed, it would appear that Microsoft are eyeing the rich pickings of Google's heartland -- the search engine.

Despite their best efforts, Microsoft has yet to pose any real threat to Google but that doesn't mean it won't.

However, if Microsoft is to gain any real foothold in one of the most highly prized online markets, it's going to have to totally rethink its existing strategy.

You don't have to be a rocket-scientist to see the marked differences between the front-page of Microsoft's bloated, advertising-heavy search and the lean, mean hunting machine that is Google.com.

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I have to admit however, that the results page of MSN.com compares favourably of the Google equivalent and shows that they are indeed prepared to acknowledge the demands of the market.

As far as the actual search process goes however, Google still seems to definitely have the upper hand, returning over twice the number of results when searching for my favourite topic "pulsejet".
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So how can Microsoft improve its chances against Google?

Obviously Microsoft's search will always be the default setting for searches whenever anyone is using Internet Explorer, that gives them a valuable advantage in the market already.

But what else can they do? Indeed, is it just too late for anyone to try and dethrone Google?

Well, in recent times there have been a number of challengers to Google but none seem to have made the grade.

Teoma.com was touted to be a Google-killer by a few brave souls and, although it maintains Google's lean mean, spartan interface and offers some nice extra functionality such as highlighting valuable resources like link-pages, it's still an also-ran.

What about past-favourites such as Altavista? Could it rise from the ashes and rekindle a kind of nostalgic loyalty from long-time Net users?

Well I'm not impressed. It's "okay", and has some nice features such as the ability to search by media-type (video, MP3, etc), indeed -- Altavista's image and video search are better than many of its rivals and represent an extremely useful tool for checking to see if others are using your images without permission -- but it's still not enough to make it my primary search engine.

What about Yahoo.com, perhaps one of the very first info-hubs on the Net?

Right now, Yahoo's search engine is pretty good, returning almost as many results as Google when fed the search term "pulsejet". Its Image searching is not bad either -- but no support for video or audio files.

Of course, if you believe those search engine submission spams, there are many thousands of search engines out there but clearly nobody is anywhere near ready to ankle-tap Google yet.

I suspect that, like myself, most seasoned Net users have already worked out which engines are best and how to use the quirks and strengths of each offering to track down the most elusive gems of information on the Web.

Google certainly remains my first port of call but it's seldom my last. Despite their shortcomings, MSN, Altavista, Teoma, Yahoo and about half a dozen others often turn up pages that Google seems to have overlooked or ranked so lowly that you'd never know they were there.

But where does this leave Microsoft? How will they challenge Google's dominance?

Well here you go Bill, here's my little contribution to the MS global domination plan -- why not give us an option to list results in order of "most recently updated"?

When you're constantly searching for the same term, new pages or websites invariably appear many pages into Google's search results, making their location a slow and tedious task. A "new sites" ranking, based on the appearance of new sites or pages since a particular date, or a ranking by the date of last major content change would be invaluable.

Of course such a ranking system would need to weed out those sites that tried to cheat by changing a random paragraph of text every day so as to always appear to contain new content -- but that's probably not too hard to do.

Hey, maybe I should have kept my mouth shut and patented the idea :)

However, it's far more likely that somewhere, out there on the web, this idea has already been implemented -- does anyone know where?

If any Aardvark readers want to share an opinion on today's column or add something, you're invited to chip in and have your say in The Aardvark Forums or, if you prefer, you can contact me directly.

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