Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Friday 9/7/2004There is, as you may have noticed, no little discussion these days about the future of Microsoft. It may or may not be in the first stages of big company stagnation, but it's certainly looking for new territories to conquer.

Friday 9/7/2004
There is, as you may have noticed, no little discussion these days about the future of Microsoft. It may or may not be in the first stages of big company stagnation, but it's certainly looking for new territories to conquer. Google, for example.

Microsoft has spotted that Google has a nice clean user interface -- and has copied it, lack of warts and all, for the MSN search. It's also spotted that Google is a far superior search engine, and has thus declared the Microsoft version will be 10 times better. The hard bit, making it 10 times better, has yet to appear -- but hey, you know Microsoft consistently overdelivers on expectations. We have no doubt that its search engine update will follow in that great Microsoft tradition.

But there's one small point where one might suspect Microsoft of being mean-spirited. If you type an incomplete or erroneous URL into Internet Explorer, it sends what you typed to MSN -- which then does a search, or whatever. You might not think you're using MSN Search or sending stuff to Microsoft, but you are. Microsoft becomes the third most popular search engine on the Net by default -- despite nobody deciding they'd want to use it -- and you're happy because… because. Well. Because.

Let's say that for some unfathomable reason you decide you don't want to do this, and wish to decline Microsoft's kind offer of a helping hand. Surely, you might think, this behaviour by the browser must be customisable. You may even go through the various settings in IE to find out how to do it. Silly! So keen is Microsoft to give your life on the Internet an MSN Search flavour, it's kept that option well away from users. You can fix it -- of course, Microsoft encourages diversity and choice -- but you have to edit the registry. I am indebted to Dave Farber's Interesting People mailing list for revealing this, because I've looked long and hard for the solution many times.

The secret is described in Microsoft Knowledge Base article 198279 -- "How to change the default AutoSearch search page" -- and, carefully wrapped in caveats about ruining your computer system if you press the wrong button in regedit, the information is presented. It's not just a question of bashing in the URL of the search engine you'd rather use, as you've got to include the extra string magic to pass the parameters from within IE -- a few extra terms on the URL, that varies from search engine to search engine.

So Microsoft, ever the helpful butler, provides a load of pre-rolled URLs you can cut and paste into your registry. Altavista, Yahoo, Ask Jeeves -- every search engine you've heard of is there and ready for action. Well, almost every.

There's one missing. You may be able to guess which one that might be. And while the tenor of the document suggests it may have been written pre-Google, it was checked and updated this May.

Microsoft? Prone to mean-spirited ineffective gestures that make it look foolish? Such a shame that these oversights might make people think that.

(Oh, heads-up. Or rather, heads off. We may need a new editor, following a disagreement with the Palace. Her Maj the Queen popped in to the Tower of London (over the road from our offices) this afternoon, in order to open a new bit, try on the crown, polish her baubles or whatever. Our glorious leader Matt Loney was in the Friday news meeting when office supremo Sharon -- of whom so much could be said -- popped her head around the door and said "Matt! You've got to move your bike! The police insist! It's a security hazard for the Royal Visit!" Matt promptly expressed a very Republican opinion involving his bicycle pump and what would doubtless end up as Queenie's second Annus Horribilis. "Treason!" we yelled. We're waiting for the Beefeaters to come and drag him away…)

(And one final note: this month's Load of Pollocks Award goes to Jim Shepherd, an analyst at AMR Research in Boston, who said: "The thing to realise is that the ERP market is a very small market. The reality is that the Fortune 1000 only has 1,000 companies." We've asked him to investigate the FT100 -- who knows what he'll find out there).

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