Hey Firefox – Let Us Pick Our Own Search Engine!

Firefox Search Box

So Firefox 3 has a new release candidate making news, suggesting that the browser is nearly done. May I suggest that the browser is nowhere near being done until the Mozilla Foundation drops its favoritism to Google and allow users to pick their own default search engine? And that Microsoft ought to be among those choices?

Seriously, the entire Firefox+Google love fest is a joke. Let’s revisit a little history here. Google fought and fought to pressure Microsoft so that no search provider was the default in Internet Explorer 7, arguing this was the best for consumer choice:

"The market favors open choice for search, and companies should compete for users based on the quality of their search services," said Marissa Mayer, the vice president for search products at Google. "We don’t think it’s right for Microsoft to just set the default to MSN. We believe users should choose."

Google got what it wanted. Internet Explorer has no default search engine. If you upgraded to it, IE used whatever search choice was already established on your computer. If you did a fresh install of XP or Vista, then you had to choose your search provider. The choice was only made for you in cases where the computer maker itself cut a deal (see these here).

If Google’s all for choice, as I’ve said before, then Google should be pressuring Firefox to ensure there’s consumer choice in that browser, as well.

Instead, Google’s been quite happy to buy out the idea of consumer choice. As the New York Times pointed out toward the end of last year, 85 percent of Mozilla’s revenue comes from Google. In return for that, Google’s what you get as your search provider for most versions of Firefox.

Let’s talk specifics. If you download a fresh copy of Firefox, by default it will be Google search that you’ll use if you search using Firefox’s built-in search box. Using a drop-down option (as shown in the screenshot at the top of this article), you can then access these resources:

  • Google (default)
  • Yahoo
  • Amazon
  • Answers.com
  • Creative Commons
  • eBay
  • Wikipedia (in Firefox 3, not Firefox 2)

It makes sense for Google to be among the options. It’s the world’s most popular search engine, well used and well respected. Similarly, Yahoo is an excellent Google alternative that should be included. And similarly, Microsoft Live Search is an excellent alternative — but it doesn’t make the list.

Why not? Again, Google has the deal to be the default search provider in most markets where Firefox is distributed, except for in some Asian markets, where Yahoo has a similar deal. It’s not clear if such deals also prevent Microsoft from being listed at all or if this happens because of the Firefox-Internet Explorer rivalry.

I don’t care in either case — Microsoft is a good search engine that searchers should have access to directly from that search bar. By not offering it, Firefox is failing its users out of either financial reasons or spite.

Yes, there’s an option to add other search engines. At the end of the drop-down box, there’s a Manage Search Engines choice that eventually leads you to this page. There, you can find Live Search among the other 23 choices. But as there aren’t that many choices, why not add them all to the search box? Firefox could learn a lesson here from Groowe. My long-time browsing companion, it lets me search from any of the major search engines or specialty search engines, with them easily grouped into categories.

Let’s go back to those other search choices. If you can’t include them all, why not list the more popular ones? Do that many people do Creative Commons searches that it needs to be right in the search box itself? And is Amazon there only because Firefox probably earns off of affiliate searches? Is that the same for eBay? If you go by download popularity, the choices would look more like this:

  • Ask.com
  • Google
  • Live Search
  • Yahoo
  • Answers.com
  • Flickr
  • Creative Commons
  • Merriam-Webster
  • IMDB
  • Wikipedia
  • Weather Channel
  • Amazon
  • eBay

I submit that search is an important part of the browser development process that shouldn’t be left as a choice made based on how much money Mozilla can earn. It should be done in a way that best benefits the user. That means:

  • Let the user make the initial search choice
  • Provide a variety of search tools right within the box

Fix it, Firefox. And Google, help them fix it by ensuring that any provisions of the secret contract between you and Firefox are altered to allow for the consumer choice you’re so happy to espouse should happen in Internet Explorer.

Related Topics: Channel: Content | Firefox | Google: Marketing | Google: Partnerships | Microsoft: Internet Explorer | Microsoft: Marketing | Microsoft: Partnerships


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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