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Google Chrome Search: anti-competitive lock-in or inspired thinking?


As screen shots start to surface of Google’s Chrome browser prior to Tuesday’s official launch, one thing is very clear: Google Chrome doesn’t have a dedicated search box.

Rising from relative obscurity, Firefox popularized a dedicated browser search box to the point that Microsoft followed with Internet Explorer and it’s near on impossible today to find a desktop browser without the feature. Google has long been the beneficiary of a dedicated search box via a financial arrangement with Mozilla, and it’s how most people start their searches today. It would seem logical that a browser from Google would offer a dedicated Google search box, and yet Google Chrome doesn’t have one.

Instead Google is offering what it calls the Omnibox, a combined search and URL space. Users can enter a URL directly or search for a term from the same location. Google Chrome will deliver previously visited pages and also Google results. It will also offer related site searches, the example given of Cars offers search IMDB in the results, a feature already offered in Google itself for sites such as Wikipedia. (click on the shot on the right to show how it works)

It’s an interesting shift in strategy away from the safe to the untested. Perhaps Google knows something about dedicated search box use rates, and has decided that the Omnibox will offer a more appealing search point. The simplicity in the idea is sound, and it does offer a cleaner browser, despite the need to educate people about the functionality.

Inspired thinking perhaps, but it would also appear to be anti-competitive as well. The Omnibox is welded into the browser itself, and unlike a dedicated search box doesn’t appear to allow for competing search engines to be selected. Google yelled from the roof tops when Microsoft tried a similar trick in Internet Explorer a couple of years ago, and yet today it appears to be pushing lock-in itself, but in a way that is worse than anything Microsoft has attempted in their browsers previously (desktop search aside). Now admittedly most people wouldn’t want to switch out of Google search, and I know despite having the ability in Firefox to do so, I never switch to the other search options. And yet just because people may not necessarily care about the lock-in, it doesn’t make it right. In creating a near monopoly in search, Google is now showing typical traits of all monopolists: lock people in and keep them there.

I could be wrong as we won’t know for sure until Tuesday how locked down the browser is in terms of search, but if it does end up being what it looks like, let the anti-trust and competitor yelling begin.

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15 Responses to “Google Chrome Search: anti-competitive lock-in or inspired thinking?”

  1. Baba Ganoush

    I think the difference is Microsoft has 90-whatever percent of the operating system market – meaning that basically every computer comes with Windows and IE preinstalled. So if, as you say, people don't typically change the default search engine, and the default search engine on 90+% of computers is IE, that's anticompetitive. Here, Google Chrome will not come preinstalled on 90+% of computers. You will have to voluntarily install it as your browser of choice. Or it could come pre-installed on some computers via deals with OEMs like Dell. But it's never going to be the default on an anticompetitive percentage of computers. Your argument implies that when people download and install Yahoo Toolbar, Yahoo should be forced to give its users the choice of using alternative search engines from within Yahoo Toolbar. It makes no sense. To me at least.

  2. SimonGoudie

    Doesn't the Chrome Tab Page (speed dial) allow you to add in search boxes from visited sites? Page 21 of the comic suggests this. You have to open a new tab, but then, most of the time you do that with the Firefox search box anyway.

  3. Martin

    How about we wait and see what the omnibar is like when it's released… I read somewhere that it easily lets you get to any search engine (or website search) that you've used before, so if you use Amazon it's as easy as 'a'+TAB then what you want to search for and it'll use the amazon search engine… I would also be surprised if you couldn't change the default search to something other than google if you wanted to.

  4. Tim Sewell

    Don't forget, Chrome is apparently open-source, so presumably it'll be about 2.5 minutes before someone shows a way to add in the ability to swap out search engines. Hard to enforce an 'anti-competitive lock-in' in FOSS.

  5. Ginger Yellow

    Well, I've just downloaded it, and you can choose any search engine you like. Google is the default, but there are a dozen or so other options already included and you can add your own.

  6. Alan Peery

    I will be very surprised if you can't easily change the default search engine. Google still remains a company with an open and sharing ethos.

    And since they're releasing it as open source, someone would add that capability within a week anyway…

  7. Matt Cutts

    Now that Chrome is out, I'll just point out that Chrome takes the default search engine from your default browser, plus the search service is trivially easy to change. So the Omnibox is not in any way hard-coded to Google, and Google is not in any way trying to push lock-in of a particular search service.

  8. Reader

    Chrome allows you to choose your search service when you're installing and afterward in options. It's not a monopoly, lol.

  9. Mufasa

    Yes chrome lets you change the default search engine in its settings. However I am one of the people that really use the search bar every day. If I want to search for a book I use Amazon if I want to find out more about a specific subject I use wikipedia not Google. I only use Google for about 50% to 60% of my searches so at first I found the lack of a search bar in Chrome really really annoying why can't I select the search engine that I what on the fly. Well you can with chrome it just take a little more knowledge about chrome.

    First you need to teach chrome the search engines that you want to use by typing the url for the search engine. So say you want to use Amazons search engine. Type in press enter. You now taught chrome that you want to use amazon search engine. To use the search engine go to the omni bar and start typing amazon the omni bar will find that you have gone there before and you will see it come up with “Press tab to search” on the right hand side of the omni bar. Press tab then you can type what you want to search for.

    this can make your search a quick as typing “a 'tab' book that I want” but it does not let you know where you can make searches from. There is no list of plug-ins that say you can make a search from this cooking site or this book site. This really relies on you as a user to know exactly where you want to make your search from. It also does not work for some of the places I like to search the most like imdb which I can get on firefox.

    over all it is good but I still would like to have a search box.

  10. christan singles

    Don't forget, Chrome is apparently open-source, so presumably it'll be about 2.5 minutes before someone shows a way to add in the ability to swap out search generators. Hard to enforce an 'anti-competitive lock-in' in FOSS.

  11. Chris

    This article jumped the gun on claiming “lock-in”, “anti-competitive”, and “monopoly”. As we all know, the search engine is easily changed via Chrome's options menu. I'm all for competition, but my question is, why would anyone want to switch from a usable search engine like Google, to something 2nd-rate and way behind on the times, like Yahoo or MSN. The free market has spoken and Google is the winner. For the sake of satisfying people like the author of this article, Chrome's search engine can be changed, but why anyone would actually want to, is beyond me.

  12. viktor

    “why would anyone want to switch from a usable search engine like Google, to something 2nd-rate and way behind on the times”

    coz he/she wants to search only that specific site, not the whole internet

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