With Microsoft's ( MSFT) newest version of Internet Explorer -- called IE8 -- the sleepy software giant not only adds some speed and security improvements, it also takes a bolder step into the search business. Set aside for a second all the hoopla about what is the best browser -- Apple's ( AAPL) Safari, Mozila's FireFox, Google's ( GOOG) Chrome or Opera -- and consider Microsoft's me-too feature known in some circles as the awesome bar. The feature might also be called the Google bypass bar. Users of Firefox and Chrome know this as the address window where keywords and URLs are typed. The new Internet Explorer, like Firefox and Chrome, offers search suggestions and Web addresses as the user types. This is a small and potentially annoying feature, but as search industry analysts point out, it's a smart attempt by Microsoft to corral more search traffic instead of watching the users and advertising revenue go to Google. To be sure, IE8 users get a separate search window at the top of the page that uses Microsoft Live as its search engine. This setting can be changed; for example, users can select Google as the default search engine. But Internet surfers tend to like shortcuts. If typing a keyword in the address window gives a you the option to search the Internet, or go directly to a Web site or even scour your own computer for what you are looking for, you might stay longer in the Microsoft network.
More important, if IE8 gives you one-stop search, Google is taken out of the equation. Microsoft continues to be eager to increase it's size as the No. 3 search and ad sales player. Speaking to investors Thursday, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer reiterated that he is still interested in creating a search partnership with Yahoo! ( YHOO).