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Europe

EU Allows France to Bankroll Google Rival

Plans to build competition for search-engine Google got a boost when the EU said it would help France fund competitor Quaero.

A Google sign inside Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. is seen in this May 30, 2007 file photo.

Taking on Google is a big job -- and now France is trying to do it

The EU's competition watchdog approved 99 million euros ($152 million) in French state aid aimed at building a European rival to US Internet search engine Google.

The "Quaero" search engine project involves 23 companies led by French technology giant Thomson. Quaero, which is Latin for "I Search," hasn't yet got off the ground due to a lack of funding.

Its estimated costs for the first five years are projected at 199 million euros, half of which France -- which has championed the idea -- has agreed to fund.

Archival photo portrait of former French President Jacques Chirac

France's Chirac stood behind the idea for Quaero

The Quaero project made headlines in 2005, when France and Germany proposed a search engine to take on the all-powerful, English-language based, Google, which opponents felt was developing a dangerous de-facto monopoly on Internet information.

Following an "in-depth examination," the European Commission decided that the Quaero project "brings positive externalities for the community as a whole."

EU allows "limited" competition distortion

However Quaero "is not spontaneously underpinned by the market owing to divergent interests within the consortium and to uncertainties regarding the project's chances of success," the EU's executive arm said in a statement.

Any resultant distortions in competition "should be limited," it added.

"We are confident that the positive contribution the program will make to European research will outweigh any distortion of competition caused by the aid," EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said.

Thomson's targeted clients for Quaero are Internet network operators, content distributors and film production studios. When developed, it will be available for personal computers, mobile phones, televisions and other platforms.

Initial plan gone awry

A person looking at Wikia Search, with a Google window open as well.

Wikipedia is also trying to compete against Google

The project met with criticism after it was unveiled by then-French President Jacques Chirac. Search engine experts cited by the Financial Times called the plan "a blatant case of misguided and unnecessary nationalism," with the main critique being that by the time of Quaero's launch, the search engine market will be a generation ahead of Quaero in media and device capabilities.

Finally, in late 2006 some of the German developers left the project, deciding to work on a scaled-down version of their search engine, called "Theseus," named after the Greek mythological figure who found his way out of the Minotaur's maze.

Ultimately, the French and German sides diverged over the basic concept of what a new search engine should focus on, news reports said. The Germans wanted to emphasize word-based searches, whereas the French side focused on multimedia.

China , Japan also aim to compete

Speaking in 2006 when the split occurred, Francois Bourdoncle, CEO of French company Exalead, said: "Germany's withdrawal reflects mainly one fact: The orientation that Germany wanted for the project was not along the same lines as the one that France favored."

The European Commission last year approved a German aid scheme for Theseus. China and Japan are both involved in creating search engines to compete with Google as well.

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