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.