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Are DuckDuckGo's Bing Ties a Problem for Linux Mint?

Mint's new default search engine shows an anti-open source bias, some have charged.

Following its official debut over the weekend, Linux Mint 12 has received a great deal of praise and attention, including my own enumeration of many of its compelling new features.

The DuckDuckGo search engine is one of those new features thanks to a partnership between the projects whereby DuckDuckGo and Mint share the revenue generated by sponsored links within the search results seen by Linux Mint users.

DuckDuckGo offers a number of advantages for privacy-focused users, as I noted yesterday; it's also built in part on open source software, and it contributes to the open source community.

In the past few days, however, there have been a few suggestions made that the search engine filters out free and open source software such as Linux and LibreOffice, largely because it draws in part from results from Microsoft Bing.

'You Will Never Reach LibreOffice'

"If you search DuckDuckGo for open source office suite, you will not find LibreOffice on top," charges a Saturday article on Muktware, for example. Instead, "it's buried at the bottom," much the way it is on Microsoft Bing, the article points out.

In an identical search on Google, however, LibreOffice is the second result, Muktware asserts.

Search on the term "office suite," meanwhile, and "you will never reach to LibreOffice," the article adds, noting that it finds a similar trend in searches for other types of software.

"The results of DuckDuckGo resembles the results of Microsoft Bing which allegedly filters open source projects," Muktware concludes.

Commenters on that article disputed its conclusion, but a similar assertion was made--and disputed--in the comments on my own story yesterday.

More than 50 Sources

It is true that DuckDuckGo bases its results in part on those from Bing, according to an explanation on its support center. DuckDuckGo actually draws its results from more than 50 sources, it says, including also Yahoo, BOSS, embed.ly, WolframAlpha, EntireWeb, Blekko, and its own crawler.

"For any given search, there is usually a vertical search engine out there that does a better job at answering it than a general search engine," the project explains. "Our long-term goal is to get you information from that best source, ideally in instant answer form."

I decided to try to replicate some of the reported problematic results on my own by doing a few parallel searches on Google and DuckDuckGo.

A Mini Test

Not including sponsored results, a Google search on the term "office software," for example, led to results that began with OpenOffice.org first, Microsoft Office second, and Wikipedia's "Office Suite" page third. LibreOffice did not appear in the top 11 results.

On DuckDuckGo, the very same search produced results that also began with OpenOffice.org and then went on to Freebyte.com/office in second place, an OfficeMax page third, and Microsoft's home page fourth. LibreOffice did not appear in the top 11 results for this search, either.

Searching instead on "office suite"--one of the terms Muktware used--both search engines' top result is OpenOffice.org once again. LibreOffice appears in 13th place on Google and 37th place on DuckDuckGo.

A search on "open source operating system," meanwhile, kicks off with Ubuntu on Google, followed by the Wikipedia page on the topic. The DuckDuckGo results began with the Wikipedia page, followed by several download sites. Android, interestingly, was the first project page--occupying the sixth spot--and the TinyOS page wasn't much further down. The Ubuntu page, however, wasn't anywhere in close sight.

Choices Abound

It's interesting that this has come up just as peer-to-peer search engine YaCy is released.

Still, with such mixed results in what was admittedly a very small and unscientific test, I have trouble believing that there's a systematic bias or filtering effort going on here--particularly since OpenOffice so clearly dominated both search engines' results in that category. If Microsoft were exerting any such effort, I suspect that would be among the first results to get filtered out.

The real test, of course, will be what goes on over time as Linux Mint users go about their daily searches as they normally would. If they're ever dissatisfied with what they find, Mint 12 has reportedly made it easier than ever to install something else.

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