That’s the problem with Microsoft. Google’s search nous has conquered the world because users chose it. Microsoft needs something as dusty as an alliance with HP to anchor itself to the rock of third place, behind even Yahoo.

The statistics read are painful: in the UK Google’s search has around 80 percent share, Microsoft more like 4 percent, with Yahoo making up most of what’s left. But from this year, anyone buying an HP in the US (but the rest of the world will probably follow) will be getting a version of IE that defaults to Microsoft’s search . If you can’t beat people, then make them join you, as they say.

The reason has nothing to do with helping people use the Internet, any more than attempting to buy Yahoo did. As a thousand commentators have pointed out, Microsoft wants a share of the online advertising market that is powering Google, not least because Windows looks as if it at last has enough of a challenge from cheap Linux devices to render its future less certain.

If Windows is less successful – we predict it is now set for a relative decline that will perhaps mirror that of the US tech economy itself – then what is Microsoft’s fortune built on?

The problem with these deals is that, viewed from a distance, they can look as if they matter. Like the dictator in a troubled state, Microsoft doesn’t actually need anyone to vote for its products. But it would help if the market share shifted up a few notches, even if that’s only because a few consumers in Arkansas hit the ‘search’ icon every now and then in a fit of boredom.

How many users have even heard of Windows Live Search? Or, for that matter, any of the family of Windows Live X that now confuse the heck out of even attentive Microsoft watchers? And will anyone get that excited about Silverlight when Flash is the standard that a thousand Soho programmers code to?