Microsoft's week consisted of several conversations with executives about the evolution of Bing, its search engine, and the inevitable comparisons with current U.S. search-market dominator Google. Those executives demonstrated a mobile version of Bing for Windows Phone 7 Series, the new smartphone operating system that Microsoft also showed off at this week's CTIA Wireless 2010 conference in Las Vegas. Although Bing and Windows Phone 7 Series are very consumer-oriented, Microsoft also made enterprise-centric news with the announcement of its upcoming unified communications platform, code-named Communications Server "14."
Back when Microsoft launched Bing in June 2009, Yahoo CEO
Carol Bartz predicted that interest in the search engine would be
"temporary." Ten months later, Bing has managed to carve out an 11.5
percent share of the U.S.
search engine market, lagging far behind Google's 65 percent but with a
substantial enough showing for Microsoft executives to insist they've reversed
the company's downward slide in search.
During this week's Search Engine Strategies show in New
York City, Yusuf Mehdi, senior vice president of the
Online Audience Group for Microsoft Bing, claimed that Microsoft's previous
crash-and-burns in search had to do with its failure to retrieve relevant
results from the "long tail" of less-common queries.
"We missed the boat early on that the focus was about the long
told the audience during the show March 25.
"We actually focused a lot
on the head of the queries. ... It turned out the long tail was much
The explosive growth in URLs being added to the World Wide Web, Mehdi
continued, forces Microsoft to wrestle with canvassing all that new online real
estate. Partnerships with Foursquare, Twitter and Wolfram Alpha are apparently
meant to buttress that task.
"On any given month, one-third of queries that show up on Bing, it's
the first time we've ever seen that query," Mehdi said. "The
challenge of being able to be up to speed, to understand that new flow of data
and to be able to index the right thing so you can respond in subsecond time is
a very, very hard problem."
Another Microsoft executive, Bing director Stefan Weitz, claimed in an
interview with eWEEK that Microsoft
is copacetic with ceding ground to Google on traditional keyword queries
as long as it can continue to draw revenue from targeted verticals such as
"People are creatures of habit, and they're fairly happy with Google's
keyword search today and they think it works well and there's no reason for
them to look around," Weitz said. "I think what we're doing with
search and as we look at how people are using the Web itself and how the Web is
changing, we think we can expand that which people do with these engines."
In essence, Weitz added, "We can grow the overall pie, the overall
number of searches that are happening across the Web." Bing's features are
designed to cement another layer onto traditional search: "We are moving
beyond links and multimedia on a page to services that provide data that we
will never ingest. But we know it exists, and we can pull it in real time to
augment that answer."
During the Search Engine Strategies show, Mehdi also demonstrated a version
of Bing for the upcoming Windows Phone 7 Series, which leverages the user's
location to return local results in response to generalized queries; for
example, type in the word "sushi," and the mobile Bing will offer
sushi restaurants within a nearby radius. Mehdi suggested that Bing Maps
functionality will eventually expand to offer users data such as bus schedules
or whether there's a line at a local coffee shop.
demonstrated handsets running Windows Phone 7 Series
at this week's CTIA
Wireless 2010 conference in Las Vegas.
The new operating system, which features a slick consumer interface reminiscent
of the Zune HD, Microsoft's well-reviewed but little-used portable media
player, takes a different approach by integrating Web and mobile-application
content into category-specific "Hubs" such as "Games" and
Microsoft's new smartphone operating system is also an attempt at a fresh
start after several quarters of U.S.
market share declines. Its previous offering, Windows Mobile 6.5, was intended
as a placeholder that would slow customer erosion until Windows Phone 7 Series
could be released at an as-yet-unannounced point near the end of 2010; however,
recent surveys by analyst firms indicate that Microsoft's share in the segment
continues to decline in the face of fierce competition from Apple's iPhone,
Research In Motion's BlackBerry line and a seemingly ever-growing collection of
Google Android devices.
While Microsoft's Bing and Windows Phone 7 Series are primarily
consumer-oriented, Microsoft also had announcements this week that pertained to
the enterprise, particularly the announcement of the next version of its
unified communications software, code-named Communications Server
"14." Slated for availability in the second half of 2010, the
platform will introduce a Communicator client intended to interoperate with
Microsoft Office, Microsoft SharePoint Server and Microsoft Exchange, while
leveraging communications and collaboration tools such as instant messaging
into the enterprise.
"Communications centered solely around the desk phone and built on
hardware-based systems are quickly becoming a relic of the past," Gurdeep
Singh Pall, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Unified Communications
Group, wrote in a March 24 posting on the official Microsoft blog. "Even
in this nomadic world a mobile phone is not sufficient-neither is it rich
enough for collaborative work, nor are companies willing to reimburse upwards
of $600 a year per employee for their mobile bill."
The area of unified communications has become increasingly competitive for
IT companies, with
heavyweights such as IBM determined to continually update their product lines.
A February 2009 report by analyst company Forrester suggested that the overall
unified communications market could be worth as much as $14.5 billion by 2015.
Even as Microsoft seems determined to grow or maintain its market share in
areas such as search and mobility, though the company has seen market share for
Internet Explorer decline in certain major European markets following the
release, earlier in March, of its "Web browser choice screen."
Designed to give Windows users in the European Union a selection of browsers
other than Internet Explorer, and designed with an eye toward alleviating
monopoly concerns from the regulatory European Commission about the bundling of
IE with versions of Windows, the ballot screen gives users a choice of 12
different browsers prominent and small.
In France, Italy
and the United Kingdom,
IE's market share declined in the period between Feb. 9 and March 10, while
shares for other browsers such as Opera rose; countries like Germany,
however, posted gains for IE that seemed to buck that trend.
the European Commission seemed satiated by the ballot screen
browsers have lodged complaints about the feature not introducing sufficient
randomization into the actual browser lineup. In a March 2 conversation with
eWEEK, Shawn Hardin, CEO of smaller browser
Flock, said: "We can't compete with the sort of money that the top guys
have, so this choice screen is enormously important. And it's just enormously
disappointing that it happened this way."