What Google Desktop Search Means to Microsoft

Since I received a bunch a calls today about Google’s new desktop search utility, larger perspective is warranted.

The browser wars really set the stage for the search competition underway between Microsoft and Google. While the Justice Department looked to Netscape as the threat to Microsoft’s monopoly, I view the Web was the greater threat. The Web introduced a vast, informational network that did not require Windows for access. Microsoft attempted to thwart the threat by way of browser-operating system integration, by making Windows more a required utility for getting at the information.

Search is really an extension of Microsoft’s original, informational problem with the Web. More than any other search vendor before it, Google has demonstrated the effectiveness of fetching information without the need for Windows. If you look at how people use computers, information is increasingly a major priority, whether accessing text or digital content, like photos and music.

On the surface, Google’s desktop search utility appears to be about the desktop PC. It’s much bigger, because Google brings the desktop search capability into the same browser where people search the Web—and provides information simultaneously from both locales. Google essentially is blurring the informational divide between desktop and Web information, which is a smart approach that should concern Microsoft.

Google is shifting the focus away from specific technologies, like Windows, to the greater utility of Web-based information. This shift grows in importance as people increase the number of different type devices they use to search the Web—not just computers but also PDAs with Wi-Fi capabilities, cell phones or Smartphones, among others. Google’s desktop search tool may run on only Windows, but that’s because of the sheer volume of people using the operating system. And that’s where Google can fill in search capabilities left out by Microsoft.

Google’s desktop search strategy syncs well with other Google initiatives, too, like GMail, Blogger and Picasa. Information—and finding it—underscores all three initiatives. I see their importance growing as people create more and more sharable content, whether personal online diaries (blogs) on photo albums.

Microsoft won’t let search get away. The same competitive problem facing Windows 10 years ago, when the Web started to generate interest and buzz, is the same with search: Access to a vast, informational system without the need for Windows. Now Google has brought search home, to Microsoft’s front door: The Windows desktop. That’s turf Microsoft won’t relinguish easily.

More importantly, Microsoft understands that as information grows more complex, such as with digital content, some vendor has to provide robust, cataloging, searching and managing capabilities, whether across the desktop, network or Internet. Microsoft wants to be that vendor.

Google may be first, but AOL and Microsoft also are preparing desktop search tools. Competition is just beginning.