BEIJING, Jan. 26 -- Still searching using Internet browsers?
Forget about that. A new search technology based on desktop access means this will soon become a thing of the past, and the impact it has on the search engine providers may profoundly alter the balance of power in the searching game.
"We are eight months ahead of all our competitors in terms of technology - at least, thanks to our latest desktop search software," said Chen Pei, president of zhongsou.com, a leading Chinese search engine provider.
The competitors Chen referred to include Google, Microsoft and Baidu, he explained. Baidu is the largest Chinese-language searching firm.
Zhongsou.com, which is less well known than Baidu, launched early this month the 3.0 beta version of its desktop search software - Personal Information Gateway, with a nickname "iPIG".
It is the company's third-generation desktop search product since zhongsou.com offered the first one last February.
"We were the earliest to introduce desktop search products as we believed it the trend of future search technology, and now this has been proven right," said Chen.
Desktop searching is altering the traditional concept that one must open the browser to search. Desktop searching enables searching to take place offline.
Moreover, the search is not confined to Internet websites. Information on the hard drives of one's computer is also searchable, including e-mail programs, chat records, and documents in Word, Excel and Powerpoint.
Search giant Google introduced its desktop product last October. The move was considered a great threat to Microsoft, as Google has muscled into the software giant's territory - the computer desktop dominated by Microsoft Windows.
Microsoft, meanwhile, has tiptoed into the searching market by offering Internet-based searching services through its instant messaging MSN software since last November. It used to rely on Yahoo's searching technology.
The software giant expects the search business will generate an annual revenue double that of Google in five years.
But Microsoft is reportedly not ready to offer its desktop search product until it launches its next generation desktop operating system - Longhorn - in 2006.
"Another round of the searching game has started featuring desktop technology, and those firms absent from desktop searches will gradually lose their appeal," said Li Nan, consulting manager of leading Chinese market research firm Shanghai-based iResearch Co Ltd.
"We can be sure that 2005 will be the year in which the desktop search is hotly pursued by search engine firms," he said.
Yahoo! also said late last year, that it will launch its desktop search tools in January.
Baidu.com has yet to announced any plan to develop desktop search products.
Yet according to Li, baidu.com is rumoured to be preparing to tap the desktop search market, making efforts to integrate more search functions, such as searching in the local area networks.
Baidu.com officials declined to comment on any possible moves regarding desktop searches.
"Because of their new technology, Google and Zhongsou.com will be better positioned in China's searching market, although Baidu.com remains No 1," said Li.
Zhongsou, according to Li, commands between 5 and 7 per cent of the country's searching market.
In competing with Baidu.com, Zhongsou.com has a technological edge, said Li.
Baidu has been copying Google in technological models, and it will probably also be a follower in terms of desktop search technology, but Zhongsou.com started even before Google, Li explained.
But lower brand awareness is a problem for zhongsou.com.
"The fierce competition among searching firms is not just about technology. The early bird catches the worm," Li noted. "In this sense, it is not easy to challenge Baidu.com or Google."
Zhongsou.com was founded in late 2003 by splitting from an alliance of searching firms under the same name. Baidu.com was established in 2000.
But Chen seemed optimistic.
"We expect a 'burst' in our market presence this year, although we may not necessarily rank top by the year's end," said Chen.
The latest "iPIG" will greatly enhance the brand awareness of zhongsou.com, with its "interesting interface and ground-breaking designs," he said.
The beta 3.0 version has further classified search needs based on different industries, or business/entertainment needs, thus making the results more accurate.
"If you search for 'CCTV' (China Central Television) in Google, probably in the list is all about the station, but what you want are the programmes. The new version helps," he said.
Zhongsou outshines other competitors with its individualized news service, said Li.
In the earlier version, the software was designed to be able to record the news searched by a user before and it will send relevant news to the subscriber's desktop.
Commenting on its competitors, Chen said he is "not afraid" of Baidu. "In fact we have seized a lot of business from Baidu.com since founding," Chen said.
Baidu.com was unavailable for comment.
And even Google is not a real rival for zhongsou.com, because the company, best known for its popular search engine, "has not been a successful business case in China, and language barrier is a bit hard to overcome."
But Li disagreed.
"Google will remain the most popular among high-income users. It is again because of habit," said Li.
"Most of these users were among the first Chinese to use Internet and Google was their only option for searching. Now they are loyal Google users."
In the best scenario, zhongsou.com will become popular among lower- and medium-income users, he said.
Microsoft, however, "could be formidable," said Chen.
"Actually we began to prepare for Microsoft's entry into the market two years ago. Now with the beta 3.0 version of 'iPIG', we stand at the forefront of the technology," he added.
And "Google might become the next Netscape in terms of desktop searching," he said.
Microsoft surely will not bundle its search software on computers to squeeze other competitors, as it did to Netscape.
Its power lies in the brand awareness and desktop dominance, Chen explained.
For the portal websites, such as Yahoo, the new technology will help little in sharpening their competitive edge, due to their smaller numbers of users, according to Li.
"You will find a much bigger percentage by the year's end," said Li.
(Source: China Daily)