Microsoft’s new search service is called BING, and takes a contrarian approach to the simple Google Interface. The BING interface is kind of a cross between Google and the Yahoo Directory, with a bit of Expedia, MapQuest, Shopping.com, UTube and Flicker thrown in for good measure. Never accuse Microsoft of being modest in their ambitions–this site takes on directly just about every major category in the online world.
I’ve given BING a quick look. It’s polished and appears pretty comprehensive. The search results don’t seem to be that much different from previous Microsoft efforts, although the interface’s major categories may allow the finding of information more quickly than an elegantly simple one like Google’s–if you know upfront the category of information that you’re looking for.
HOW LIKELY IS SUCCESS?
Will they succeed? They have many times before in similar situations. They’ve been laughed at and written off in quite a number of markets over the years. MS has a bad corporate habit of releasing poor products in their first one, two, and even three incarnations. Any other company would give up after so many failures in a particular segment-but not Microsoft. Don’t forget that as a software company, Microsoft has always seemed to believe that it is their god-given right to sell every line of software code written in the world.
There are many examples of Microsoft rising from the dead in software market segments. In spreadsheets, Excel was at one point in time a speck on the wall compared to Lotus 123. WordPerfect had a commanding lead over MS Word in word processing back in the DOS days. And a large number of MS Network Operating System Server software offerings (beginning with LAN Manager) were considered a joke relative to Novell Netware, for the longest time back in the 90s.
In all of these situations, Microsoft had the last laugh, soundly beating their seemingly entrenched and unbeatable rivals in large market segments. As a result of this corporate history, they believe that can beat anyone and rarely give up. Occasionally, I have seen them back off, notably after several tries competing with Intuit in personal financial software. But if it’s considered a strategic, core segment by MS, they will throw a huge amount of resources at the segment, take large losses, and not give up until they’ve broken through.
I call them the Terminator of High Tech.
TERRIBLE TRACK RECORD IN ONLINE SERVICES
Of course, this isn’t a pure software market, its online services. The problem for Microsoft with Bing and the search engine market in general is that they’ve been floundering almost completely, for a long period of time, in online services. In fact, they’ve not had much success in their history online at all. This is especially noteworthy in contrast to their domination of the desktop software business, and the competitive advantage their desktop monopoly should provide them in online services. Yet they’ve done poorly in almost everything online, and are a distant third in search engine marketing–not even all that close to a fading Yahoo.
So as most pundits will confirm, Microsoft has been terrible in the online world. This does not bode well for the possible success of Bing. But as I alluded to earlier, there is another side to this equation.
MICROSOFT CONSIDERS ONLINE SERVICES IN GENERAL AND SEARCH ENGINE MARKETING SPECIFICALLY, TO BE ABSOLUTELY AT THE CORE OF THEIR FUTURE SUCCESS–AND EVEN THEIR SURVIVAL.
Yes, this hugely successful company has always been a bit paranoid–which may be a bit on the humorous side given their overall success. But it has worked well for them over the years. It has given the company a sense of urgency which is very hard to generate in corporations of their size and stature. So anyone with a sense of history would be foolish to rule them out.
HOW CAN MS OUTFLANK GOOGLE?
But how are they going to defeat their competitors, mostly notably Google, this time in the online world? In my quick evaluation, I didn’t see anything technically revolutionary, such as demonstrably more-relevant search results. Some people may prefer the Bing category-oriented interface better than Google’s, but it will be a matter of taste–I can’t see an overwhelming advantage here. In past cases MS may have overwhelmed a segment with marketing, or simply given away a product, to ensure defeat of a rival they feared could grow into a broad line Software competitor (Novell, Netscape, etc.). It’s unclear to me what strategy they will be able to take to defeat Google, which is a dominant, embedded brand with wild profitability in Search Engine Advertising. But I believe they fear the Google franchise and know they need to crack to code to online success if they are going to retain their position in the long run. So don’t expect any throwing in the towel any time soon.
Maybe Microsoft will hit upon some innovative strategy that will enable them to win the day in this crucial market. But the one thing I can think of right now, that may work in their favor, is deep pockets, longevity and sheer persistence. Google has also been unable to achieve success outside of their domination in their core Search Engine Marketing segment. This is very analogous to Microsoft’s struggles outside of desktop software. The Search Engine advertising segment will eventually mature, and there are already some early signs of slowing. Plus Google risks killing the goose that laid their golden egg by raising their “Auction” bid rates to levels that will make it hard for their customers to make money–don’t get me started on that. Advertisers may eventually take their advertising budgets elsewhere. So for MS in this crucial platform it may be a matter of hanging around, making incremental improvement to their Search Engine offerings, until Google shoots itself in the foot.
Doesn’t sound like much of a strategy, I know. But stranger things have happened. Let me know what you thing of Microsoft’s launch of Bing. Post a message or drop me an email.