Microsoft, the onetime monopolist, must find it hard to play the role of underdog. But that’s exactly where the company finds itself today when it comes to the highly non-competitive search market, where Google continues to lead and Microsoft is an extremely distant number two.
Google’s dominance also extends to the browser category, where Microsoft Edge is far behind Chrome. It’s still too early to tell whether Microsoft’s all-new Edge browser, based on Google’s open source Chromium code base, can make a dent in Google’s overwhelming lead on desktop PCs.
Ironically, Microsoft’s latest strategy for winning people over to Bing and Edge involves the same sort of tactic that got them in trouble in the 1990s: tying its search engine and its browser tightly to Windows. The difference in 2020 is that Windows no longer has monopoly power in a world dominated by mobile devices.
That background helps put today’s Microsoft Edge announcements in better context. While Google is under pressure from European antitrust authorities for anticompetitive behavior in online shopping, Microsoft is integrating Bing-powered online shopping tools into Edge.
The first new feature adds price comparison tools to Edge collections. (For more on how Edge collections work, see “Bye-bye, Chrome: 10 steps to help you switch to Microsoft’s new Edge browser.”) When you add a product to a collection, Edge adds a “compare price to other retailers” link that displays a list of prices for that item from other retailers, along with direct links to those pages.
A second new feature expands the Bing Rebates program, which offers cash back to shoppers who sign in using a Microsoft account and then click a product link from a Bing search page. Rebates are available in a wide range of categories, including fashion, electronics, groceries, travel, games, entertainment, and books.
A separate new feature expands the “Give with Bing” feature to seven new markets: the UK, Canada, Australia, France, Italy, Germany, and Spain. Searches made through Bing earn points for anyone signed in to a Microsoft account; those points can be redeemed as contributions to more than 1.4 million charitable organizations worldwide, with Microsoft matching those contributions through the end of the year.
The goal, of course, is to win over Google fans to Edge and Chrome. Today’s announcements are part of a series of moves that try to put Bing in front of users who would otherwise never go there by making Bing the default search engine in the new Edge. Microsoft is also pressing that campaign by including Bing results when users enter terms in the Windows 10 search box, and organizations that use Microsoft 365 accounts can integrate work-related results from online assets, including SharePoint libraries and OneDrive for Business.
But the challenge might just be too overwhelming. Today’s announcements come just days after the release of a long, detailed report from a Congressional antitrust subcommittee that documents Google’s overwhelming structural dominance in search.
“The overwhelmingly dominant provider of general online search is Google,” according to the report. Google “captures around 81% of all general search queries in the U.S. on desktop and 94% on mobile,” they noted, compared to Bing, which captures a mere 6% of the market.
That dominance comes even as Microsoft spends billions of dollars a year to maintain its search index, a job that literally no one else in the Western world can do. The House subcommittee report notes that “Today the only English-language search engines that maintain their own comprehensive webpage index are Google and Bing. Other search engines—including Yahoo and DuckDuckGo—must purchase access to the index from Google and/or Bing through syndication agreements.”
See also: Bing rebrands to Microsoft Bing | Microsoft Edge to get a web screenshot utility | How Edge’s new sleeping tabs will save your laptop battery life | Is Google better than Bing? I asked Google and Bing (and got surprising results)
And despite that massive investment over more than a decade, Bing continues falling further behind Google.
Congressional antitrust investigators quoted a 2016 Google document that calculated Bing had suffered significant declines in query volume revenue. They concluded that “Google’s monopoly power is durable and its lead insurmountable.”
As anyone who studied the Microsoft antitrust trial in the 1990s can tell you, though, no lead lasts forever, and a determined competitor can turn the tables with luck and persistence. Just ask Apple, which was a distant second behind Microsoft in the personal computing market at the beginning of the 21st Century. An investment from Microsoft kept Apple alive, and today it’s the largest publicly traded company in the world.