Shall We Become Tools of Our Tools?
Perhaps search engines—desktop, web, or otherwise—are merely tools in the end. With their consumer focus, however, it seems likely that some form of civil responsibility, if not regulation, will ultimately appear. Speaking for myself, I never use Yahoo! search, because the clutter that surrounds it is off-putting, and I'm trying to get work done. If all search engines become cluttered, only a government-sponsored search system, or a largely voluntary effort such as Wikipedia or DMoz, will ever be of practical use to me.
To summarize, the emergence of desktop search engines, with optional web integration, represents new competition in the search space, but also a hardening of commercial realities. Such hardening is not ideal for end users, but then end users are not as important as stockholders. If web-based searches such as Google and Ask Jeeves are to survive in the new "single search" environment, they must carve out a chunk of user interface, and do so against the tide of Microsoft's Windows integration efforts.
Finally, search user interfaces may be topical at the moment, but search is, in the end, all about data: what you type in, and what you get back. Although Microsoft gains and gains, the company most focused on data is Oracle—IBM is far too diversified for that mantle. As yet, there's been little from Oracle on the topic of search. It seems too incredible to suggest that a company synonymous with the query features of SQL doesn't care about search, but that's the way it appears at the moment. Perhaps Oracle will be the next twist in the search story.
Nigel McFarlane is a freelance science and technology writer, analyst, and programmer. He is the author of Rapid Application Development with Mozilla (Prentice Hall PTR, 2003, ISBN 0131423436). See his web site at http://www.nigelmcfarlane.com or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.