Search engines

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There is some good news at last for investors following the dot-com fiasco. The leading supplier of an Internet search engine, Google, is reported to be about to go public, and capitalise on good turnover and profits. Good luck to them.

As so many Internet users will confirm, Google is the most effective search engine available. The technology is very impressive, since the Web uses an unstructured mark-up language, HTML, so that the search must be based on text string manipulation. The technology to solve this problem is readily available in the form of XML, but this is the eternal IT problem, we do it wrong in volume so that it becomes impossible to replace obsolete technology when the new one appears. The thought of replacing all those dreadfully designed Web pages with new user friendly ones based on XMLis most appealing but totally impractical; we will have to live with the limitations of HTML for a long time yet. It is the ability of the Google search engine to make a reasonable job of finding something in the real world Web that has made them so successful.
However while Google are currently ahead they may not have that lead forever. They have growing competition from two sources. First the big Web sites, in particular Yahoo! and MSN, have their own search engines as part of the packaged service. They aren't as good as Google, but they are working to improve their systems. Because of the convenience of using the single site they do not have to be better than Google, nearly as good is sufficient. Thus Yahoo! can improve one facet of their system to attack Google, but what can Google do in return? They can and will continue to improve their own technology but that will not be sufficient in the long run I fear; they must expand their services.
The other attack on Google will come from IBM and Microsoft. They have focused on more specific search tools, targeted at accessing corporate data, rather than the Internet. IBM continue to improve DB2 Integrator and Microsoft have similar search tools for SQL Server. Microsoft however is the bigger threat to Google because with Internet Explorer they have a stranglehold at present on the Web browser. Nothing is likely to happen with the current products but Microsoft is making predictions about the features of their next release of Windows, code named Longhorn. One of the features being touted is greatly improved access to data, presumably by incorporating metadata via XML into the operating system itself. They also talk of embedding the browser. All this is marketing talk and Longhorn has taken a back seat at the moment, but imagine what could happen with search technology added to an embedded browser, needless to say giving big advantages to MSN. This would of course cause outrage from Yahoo!, etc. and it is unlikely to happen unless the bigger Web service providers formed a cartel along with Microsoft. Let's hope that this doesn't happen!
There is a vague parallel here with the browser wars in which Microsoft destroyed Netscape. The Netscape browser was much better than IE, but it only covered the narrow, specialised field; Microsoft controlled the package. One option open to Google is to acquire a company which specialises in Linux on the desktop. That is a very small market at present, but a growing one, particularly in Europe and Asia. In this way Google could combat Microsoft's dominance of the desktop to some extent, but it would help them to defend their core product, the search engine.< BR>
Martin Healey, pioneer development Intel-based computers en c/s-architecture. Director of a number of IT specialist companies and an Emeritus Professor of the University of Wales.


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article 2004-06-25T00:00:00.000Z Martin Healey
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