The renewal of Google's licence by mainland authorities last week finally scotched speculation that the US search giant would be kicked out of the world's biggest internet market and temporarily eased a long stand-off over internet censorship. Google kept its commitment 'not to self-censor' and a foothold in the promising market. Mainland censors kept face by not losing a world-class investor and temporarily face less outside pressure. The biggest losers, say internet industry insiders, are the tens of millions of mainland internet users unable to fully enjoy the world's most popular internet service. Google closed its mainland search engine in March and began automatically redirecting internet users to its uncensored Hong Kong site. It stopped that practice early this month after Beijing warned that it would result in the withdrawal of its licence. Almost simultaneously, it launched a new landing page for its mainland site and added the number of its new internet content provider (ICP) licence, hinting that its licence renewal application had been approved. But all Google users on the mainland will still be redirected to its Hong Kong site once they click on Google.cn's current landing page, which even lacks a search box that inquiries can be typed into. Wen Yunchao , a prominent internet analyst and technician better known by his internet pseudonym Beifeng, said Google had succeeded in keeping its commitments 'not to self-censor' and to 'do no evil' - as well as its potentially lucrative foothold on the mainland. 'For all internet users on the mainland, nothing has changed since March and Google did not compromise for the renewal of its licence,' he said, pointing out that there was no self-censorship because when mainland internet users did a Google search, they would be redirected to Google's Hong Kong site. However, that means mainland internet users still have the same problem they have suffered since March: once they search for some politically sensitive keywords, they will be automatically blocked by censors for at least a few minutes. Some young internet users said Google's service was more stable before it announced the closure of its China engine. 'After March I have been always blocked, even when just searching for some teachers' names with the Chinese character Hu,' a first-year student at Guangdong University of Foreign Studies said. Another Guangzhou student, John Wang, in his fourth year at Sun Yat-sen University, said Google's unstable service since March had been forcing him to turn back to Baidu, the US search giant's biggest competitor on the mainland. Baidu has about 60 per cent of the mainland market, compared to Google's 30 per cent. Dr Wu Qiang, a Tsinghua University political scientist, said speculation that Google.com and other applications such as Gmail could be completely blocked had been wrong from the beginning because neither side could afford to lose the other. He said the renewal of licence had been foreseeable, and that internet users on the mainland would have to pay the cost in terms of a bad online search experience at Google. Both Wu and Isaac Mao Xianghui, a fellow at Harvard University's Berkman Centre for Internet and Society, said Google's unstable service would encourage its mainland users to use proxies to scale the 'Great Firewall' and gain access to the information blocked by mainland censors. But the Guangzhou students said that for general users, scaling the wall might not be the preferred option. They said most of their friends were aware that information was blocked, but only the few who really needed to access such blocked information would bother using proxies. Wang said he did not think Google's moves since March, regarded by some internet users and activists as a moral victory, would do much to help general users. 'Of course I would like to use Google, but only if it is stable,' he said.