Microsoft Corp. today announced that it has won a key distribution deal with HP, the world’s largest PC manufacturer, to install a Live Search-enabled toolbar on all HP consumer PCs planned to ship in the United States and Canada, beginning in January 2009. As part of this deal, the default search engine setting in the browser on all HP consumer PCs will also be set to Microsoft Live Search.
"This agreement with HP is a strategic indicator of our increased focus on securing broad-scale distribution for Live Search," said Kevin Johnson, president of the Platforms & Services Division at Microsoft. "This is the most significant distribution deal for Live Search that Microsoft has ever done, and we are very pleased to be partnering with HP to help bring Live Search to millions of consumers across North America."
Microsoft is building a custom, Live Search-enabled toolbar for HP customers that takes advantage of the exceptional user experience capabilities of Microsoft Silverlight. The toolbar will provide HP with customization capabilities within the buttons on the toolbar, providing quick and easy access to a variety of online services and tools, such as Snapfish by HP, the company’s online photo service, and HP customer support.
My first thought when I read this was "Ugh, no another toolbar push." Let's face it, every tech company that has a toolbar (and that's most of them) is pushing their toolbar over the competition. Microsoft is cutting out the middle-man here (that's the consumer, who usually has to initiate the download and install) and making sure that the toolbar is re-installed and waiting for the consumer. This deal should put Microsoft's new Live Search toolbar in front of some 16 million consumers.
Note: I don't buy HP PCs so on a personal note I couldn't care about this announcement either way.
Then I noticed something else. Something odd. Normally, when company signs a deal to push something to millions of users, the press release or blog post usually mentions the consumer benefit associated with the push. It's interesting to note that neither the press release nor the blog post by Mikko Ollila (Product Manager, Live Search Partner Ecosystem) makes any mention of how this will benefit consumers. This is all about Microsoft and increasing brand awareness. The question isn't whether this will raise the awareness of Live Search (because it will), it's whether users stick with Live, or feel they need to go elsewhere for their search needs.
I'm of the belief that this just as we are entering into a renewed browser war (both Apple and Mozilla have changed tactics as of late), we're also going to see a re-invigoration of the toolbar war. All the major players (Microsoft, Google, Yahoo! ...) have deep pockets and a deal like this between Microsoft and HP will make the other players look for a partner.
Prepare yourself for an onslaught of toolbars.