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Google, Bing Wars – don’t do as I do, do as I say

While the EU fulminates over the evils of Microsoft and its unfair competition, we were surprised to find that the company everyone loves to hate actually turns out to be a damned sight more helpful than its rivals when it comes to giving users choice.

Having occasion to install Google Earth on a new machine, we failed to notice the little check box on the download screen to grab the Chrome browser at the same time. This is ticked by default, which is, in itself, sharp practice. So we ended up with a Google product we didn’t really want.

Undeterred, we thought we’d give it a go before consigning it to the trash.

Apart from not importing favorites and settings from IE8 properly – it puts them in a separate folder – we noticed that the choice of search engine was rather limited. You can have Google (no surprise there), Yahoo, Ask and MSN – the old name for Bing. If you want to add others, you’re faced with an impenetrable screen (assuming you eventually find it) which asks for %s to be inserted in the URL where the search term should be.

While we just about understood what they were on about, we thought it unlikely that ordinary users would have a clue and would just stick with the default search provider. Not much freedom of choice for users there, then.

Safari proved even worse.

Again, favorites and settings were imported in a very clunky way and while there is probably a way to add the search provider of your choosing, we only had a couple of hours to waste and gave up looking for it. As it is, you’re stuck with Google or Yahoo.

Firefox was the best of a bad lot, although again, favorites and settings were still imported in a far from satisfactory manner. The search engines available by default include Google, Yahoo, Amazon, Answers.com, Chambers, Creative Commons, eBay and Wikipedia. And there’s a screen showing numerous addons, including – wonder of wonders – Bing.

Firefox also managed to copy the home page tab set from IE8 – something apparently beyond the capabilities of the coders at Apple or Google.

We didn’t bother to check Opera because no one uses it anyway.

IE8 was the surprise winner of our little contest. If you want to change search provider, a simple click in the search box presents you with three pages of alternative engines. Just click on the one you want and it’s added to the search box dropdown. It’s simple to make it the default, too.

So here’s a question for the EU and all the sanctimonious Microsoft haters out there – why is it that the evil IE8 offers more choice – and in a way simple to understand for ordinary users – than the rival products it’s supposed to be repressing unfairly?