For the past several days, Larry Dignan has been seeing what it's like to live without Google. Each day, he's been trying different, lesser-known search engines to see how they stack up. As he points out, this is essentially what eBay decided to do when it announced that it would cease Adwords spending on Google in the US market, at least for the time being. While the move may have been linked to Google's planned "protest" at an eBay conference (it's now been canceled), it should still be an interesting and worthwhile experiment for eBay to see what life without Google is like. At the moment, analysts expect eBay to take some sort of business hit, although it's not clear how big it will prove to be. If it's too big, you can expect eBay to quietly scurry back to Google. That being said, both Dignan's and eBay's experiment demonstrate something important about Google's competitive standing. As powerful as it is, there's still very little lock in. If an individual or company wants to stop doing business with Google this very instant, they can. People stick with Google, not because it's hard to switch away, but because they don't see any better alternatives. Compare this to Microsoft during its heyday (or even now). It would be virtually impossible for a business that ran Windows to try going without Microsoft for a week or a quarter, just as a business experiment. This means that even when there are superior alternatives to Microsoft products, it's hard to get people to switch to them -- a fact that has underpinned many of the legal challenges against the company. These Google-free experiments should hearten anyone that fears the company's power or thinks we've just traded one monopoly for another. When a superior alternative does arise, it won't be hard for anyone to switch.
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