To create an adCenter account, you must leave a credit card number. Microsoft then charges that credit card account a nonrefundable $5. From there, adCenter is very similar to Googles AdWords.
Each lets someone bid against others to have their advertisement accompany search results for a particular search term. Each time someone clicks on the ad, Google or Microsoft or another such company gets paid the amount of the winning bid.
But Microsoft thinks it has a big edge. The company claims that no other search advertising program steers ads to customers based on day of the week, time of day and a specific geographic location.
AdWords and a self-serve feature from Yahoo cant target an audience that precisely. In theory, the more refined the audience choice, the more successful the marketing.
adCenter makes Microsoft a "solid No. 3 player," Directions On Microsoft analyst Matt Rosoff said during an interview in late December, when adCenter first appeared on the scene in Singapore and France.
That could mean more of the spending on search advertising will go Microsofts way. And that could mean significant new revenues. In the United States alone, $5.1 billion was spent on this kind of advertising in 2005, various analysts suggest.
adCenter also represents the latest in hostilities between Google and Microsoft, which Google identifies as its chief competitor, according to Google financial filings.
Microsoft feels the same way about Google. The Redmond, Wash., software giant, and operator of the No. 3 search engine, intends to spend $2 billion more than expected mostly on MSN, its Internet portal and search engine, and Windows Live, a next-generation version of many of its existing features like Hotmail e-mail. Both features compete directly with Google.
"We will keep them [Google] honest," Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates said during a May 3 address to the annual MSN Strategic Account Alliance in Redmond. adCenter is also one of a number of new, Internet-based features that Microsoft is expected to unveil May 4, the summits final day.
The general release of adCenter is a kind of curtain call for Yahoo, which has been providing the same kind of features to Microsoft under terms guided by a profit-sharing arrangement. That agreement ends in June, and at that time many analysts believe that Yahoo will disappear from the scene.