Rare Book Monthly

Articles - December - 2007 Issue

Microsoft's Book Search Reflects Pitched Battle With Google

Live2

Clicking on a match in Microsoft shows you the title page plus an index of pages containing your search term.


However, there is one shortcoming with Microsoft's presentation -- there is no scroll bar alongside the text. You have to click from page to page. The problem is that you can't see the bottom third of most pages, and without a scroll bar, you cannot scroll down to view it. The only solution is to reduce the type size, making it harder to read. Google provides a scroll bar so it is easy to see the entire page without reducing the type size. That is one major advantage for Google, but an easily correctible issue for Microsoft, whose presentation is, in my opinion, otherwise a step up from Google. Maybe they are trying to improve on the wheel after all, though Google invented it.

While Microsoft's venture into the world of books is interesting, it is obviously part of a much larger strategy to take on Google. They have mimicked many more of the latter's features. For example, in September we reviewed Google Scholar, a search service that looks for scholarly and academic works. It is a valuable tool for serious research. Well, lo and behold, even this obscure tool has a Microsoft version, Live Search Academic. This may be a niche service, but Microsoft has come up with a competitor.

The one Google service I do not see mimicked is Google Product Search, formerly known as Froogle. This searches numerous websites for products for sale. The Americana Exchange's own Books For Sale book listings can be found through Google Product Search. There is no Microsoft equivalent. I suspect this reflects how each company makes its money. Google's revenue is made almost entirely through advertising. Google provides all of these wonderful services free, and makes its living by running ads alongside of them.

This is a concept entirely foreign to Microsoft. It makes its living by selling products, not advertising. Yes it has followed Google with free searches supported by advertising, just as years ago it followed Netscape with a free web browser, Yahoo with a free web portal. Still, this seemed more motivated by fear than love, fear of being left behind by technology newer than their own. Microsoft does not like to give things away, and it will probably be a bitter pill if it ever is forced to offer free product listings for outside vendors. They really want you to shop outside sites through MSN.com, where they can get a piece of the action.

If Microsoft is edging in now on Google's territory, Google has been doing the same to Microsoft, offering free software to accomplish tasks Microsoft charges for. Once again we see role reversal. When Microsoft designed software that mimicked programs offered by others, their version was often inferior. It didn't matter, as Microsoft had the marketing leverage of the proverbial 800-pound gorilla. Now, Google is the 800-pound gorilla of search, and that may force Microsoft to design superior versions instead. Now one wonders how far behind Microsoft's Googlesque search services will come Google's computer operating system (call it "Doors") offered, naturally, for free.

Rare Book Monthly

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