SAN FRANCISCO - Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) CEO Steve Ballmer pulled no punches in his appearance here at the Web 2.0 Summit Oct. 18. He livened up a relatively controversy-free show by poking fun at Google's (NASDQ:GOOG) Apps cloud collaboration software, the Android mobile operating system and even Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone.
Ballmer last spoke here at the Web 2.0 Summit in 2009, just a handful of months after the company launched its Bing search engine to challenge Google. When it launched in May 2009, Bing had about 7 percent search share from when the product was dubbed Microsoft Live Search. Ballmer proudly noted that Bing has risen to grab nearly 15 percent market share today. Google is No. 1 with 65 percent search share.
He added that Microsoft went from the No. 3 U.S. search player to the No. 2 search player in that time. Ballmer was factoring in search market share from Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO) whose search engine Bing powers. "Together with Yahoo, we're between 25 percent and 30 percent market share," Ballmer correctly noted, adding that this is important not only for market share purposes but because it mean Bing has more data to access.
He also exhorted the audience to try any search they want on Bing and Google. He said Microsoft's internal tests indicated 70 percent of the time users won't care what search engine they are using, while 15 percent of the time users will prefer Bing. Google will be the preferred search engine the other 15 percent of the time.
Web 2.0 Summit co-host John Battelle asked Ballmer if search is as important now to Microsoft as it was three years ago, given all the information discovery users are doing on social networks such as Facebook and Google+.
Ballmer replied that the core notion of Bing lies in understanding the world in a variety of different ways-geographically, timelines, people, user interests and privacy-and that it is of greater importance today than it was then.
Battelle also asked whether Microsoft wants to play big in social; the company currently partners with Facebook and Twitter to index social data on Bing. "Have you decided to punt on social, or are you going to surprise us at some point?" Battelle asked.
Ballmer replied cagily that the word social is as "broad as all get out," adding that Facebook has come to define social and that Microsoft enjoys working with them. He noted that the 50 million people who use Xbox Live socialize just playing it.
He also pointed out that Skype, which Microsoft just acquired for $8.5 billion, adds significant social connections via voice over IP. "The acquisition of Skype is a big step along that path that is all about connecting you to other people," Ballmer noted.