Buying search share is nothing new; the Mozilla Foundation apparently gets a ton of money from Google for making it the default in FireFox. This is just another skirmish in the search/toolbar/gadget wars; the stakes are high, because search is the user interface of the web.
I doubt the strategy will have much impact, unless Microsoft fixes what really matters: the quality of its search engine.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of search today. I was reminded of this during a recent presentation on software usability. Speaker Larry Constantine made an example of a feature in Word: how to insert a caption for an image.
Problems like this are easier than they were in the pre-Google era, for the simple reason that users are now able to search for the answer. Try it: Google for “word insert caption” (without the quotes) and up come dozens of postings on the subject. Quicker and better than online help.
Since the ability to search efficiently is now a key productivity factor, it follows that businesses should think twice before allowing themselves to be bribed into enforcing search preferences. Better to evaluate the search engines, and maybe give some training in how to use them.