A row has broken out between Microsoft and Google over the way IE7 choses which search engine is default. The New York Times is reporting [subscription needed - use BugMeNot] that Google has even gone as far as talking to the US Department of Justice over what it sees as an antitrust breach, and quotes Marissa Meyer (VP Search Products and User Experience) as saying:
"The market favors open choice for search, and companies should compete for users based on the quality of their search services. We don't think it's right for Microsoft to just set the default to MSN. We believe users should choose."
IE7 decides which search engine should be default by looking at which search engine is used by the IE6 AutoSearch feature when the user is upgrading, and using that. By default that search engine is set to MSN, so unless the user has installed a piece of software which changes the default (such as Google Toolbar) or their OEM or ISP has changed it, IE7 will use MSN as its default search engine, as it would take a very tech savvy user to change the settings without a program.
Microsoft has been really clever here. In the vast majority of cases, MSN will become the default search engine in IE7. However, Microsoft has engineered itself a strong defense against any antitrust proceedings which may be taken against it by being able to claim that it is using the users preferred search engine.
Google, however, is being ridiculous. It's not its proposed method of chosing the default search engine, which is to ask on install of IE7 which search engine the user would like to be default, but the fact that it is having the cheek to argue. Google does exactly what it is complaining that Microsoft does (namely setting the default search engine to itself) in not one, but two browsers. It has paid both the Mozilla Foundation and Opera vast sums of money for the privilege of being the default search engine for the search box, and it is Google's deal with Opera which enabled it to be offered for free without ads. And, as Phillip Lennsen points out, Google is currently promoting Firefox on its US homepage. I am amazed that the whole blogosphere is not shouting out 'hypocrisy' at Google. [UPDATE: They are! Just have a look at this post on InsideGoogle]
[More at the IE Team Blog, InsideGoogle and at Memeorandem.]