Yesterday, Ryan Gave, GM of Microsoft Search and Cortana, blogged about a change in the way Microsoft would handle Cortana searches. The reaction has been mixed, and for good reason.
Until yesterday, it was possible to jury-rig Windows 10 so that Cortana Web searches would use an arbitrary browser and search engine. Not anymore. Now if you perform a Web search with Cortana, it will take place with Edge and use the Bing search engine -- period. The change was made on the back end in Microsoft’s cloud, and there doesn’t appear to be any way to circumvent it.
Both Firefox and Google’s Chrome can be used to circumvent the restriction, most frequently to use Google, instead of Bing, as Cortana’s search engine. Paul Thurrott showed back in August that if you set Firefox up as your default Web browser, the currently active Firefox search engine provides answers to Cortana Web searches. Lori Kaufman at How-to-Geek published a similar workaround in August that employed the active Chrome search engine, using a Chrome extension called Bing2google.
But from now on, those who prefer Google (or DuckDuckGo) over Bing will have to haul out their Web browsers. “Hey, Cortana,” invokes big brother Bing, like it or not.
Gavin says that Microsoft’s new restriction is for the user’s benefit:
With Windows 10, we have invested in delivering comprehensive, end-to-end search capabilities that make Windows more personal, intuitive, and helpful. The Cortana search box, in the bottom left of the Windows 10 taskbar, allows you to easily search across apps, documents, settings, and the Web all with the help of your truly personal digital assistant ... Unfortunately, as Windows 10 has grown in adoption and usage we have seen some software programs circumvent the design of Windows 10 and redirect you to search providers that were not designed to work with Cortana. The result is a compromised experience that is less reliable and predictable. The continuity of these types of task completion scenarios is disrupted if Cortana can’t depend on Bing as the search provider and Microsoft Edge as the browser. The only way we can confidently deliver this personalized, end-to-end search experience is through the integration of Cortana, Microsoft Edge, and Bing -- all designed to do more for you.
Gavin doesn’t dwell on the Bing connection to Microsoft’s revenue. In the last quarter of calendar year 2015, Bing search revenue grew 25% over the previous quarter. In the first calendar quarter of 2016, it’s up 18% again. Microsoft itself attributes much of the revenue growth to the adoption of Windows 10. What better way to increase Bing usage by tying it inextricably into the search box next to the Start button -- the search box that responds to voice input, no less.
Certainly, Microsoft can bind Edge and Bing together to give a better experience to Cortana users. That’s great. But why not let the market decide? Why more sticks, instead of more carrots?