Microsoft's MSN Homepage, Bing Gains, Flash Support Highlighted Week

Microsoft had a Web- and mobile-centric week, centered on developments with its upcoming Windows Phone 7 Series and a redesigned MSN homepage, as well as another report of incremental market-share gains for its Bing search engine. The news also highlighted that interlinked nature of Microsoft's competitors in the online space, including Google, Yahoo and Apple.

Microsoft's news this week primarily existed in the online and mobile arenas-fitting, considering the company's increased focus on those spaces as it attempts to develop viable businesses apart from its flagship desktop software applications.

On March 9, Microsoft rolled out its redesigned MSN homepage, with a stripped-down layout and a focus on integrating social-networking services such as Twitter and Facebook. That streamlined design also includes multiple Bing-powered search bars and 50 percent fewer links. New windows allow users to view the most-popular current topics on Twitter and MSN.

"Since the preview of our new homepage began in November, we've been very busy gathering over 70,000 pieces of customer feedback and introducing over 30 updates in our quest to deliver the best homepage to stay in the know," Erik Jorgensen, MSN's corporate vice president, wrote in a March 9 posting on the official MSN blog. "Because we want to ensure that every customer has a great first experience, we're taking our time to roll it out, but all of our 100 million customers in the U.S. will have the new homepage within the next couple of weeks."

Visitors to the homepage can use the MSN Local Edition, which displays information keyed to the user's location, as well as My Cities, which feeds up to three cities' worth of localized Tweets, local video clips, and postings from area blogs.

Microsoft and Yahoo have both re-designed their homepages in recent months, in a bid to both gain users and attract advertising dollars. Around the time that Microsoft initiated its MSN redesign, Yahoo initiated a $100 million "It's You" rebranding campaign, seeking to re-establish the company as a viable online entity in the face of fierce competition from both Google and Microsoft.

Speaking of that three-way competition, new data from analytics company comScore, released on March 10, suggested that Bing continued to make incremental gains in the U.S. search market, climbing from 11.3 percent in January to 11.5 percent in February. Google also rose slightly, from 65.4 percent to 65.5 percent, and Yahoo dipped from 17 percent to 16.8 percent.

"[Microsoft's] 350 [basis point] gain in search share post its launch is an indicator of sustainable traction. With Yahoo's traffic added to its own in late [second half of 2010], Bing should become a viable competitor to Google, with 28 percent market share-a duopoly most advertisers welcome," Jefferies & Co. analyst Youssef Squali wrote in a March 10 research note.

Bing's share retention bodes well as it expands beyond the United States, according to some analysts.

"With Bing launching its ad campaign in some foreign markets, we would expect to see similar results in the international share figures in the coming months," analysts from FBR Capital Markets wrote in a March 10 note.

Microsoft is also engaged in a proxy battle against Google, with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer admitting during a March 2 talk at the Search Marketing Expo in Santa Clara, Calif. that his company had been "expressing" its frustrations over the search-engine giant to antitrust officials. Google is currently under investigation by a number of government agencies, including the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice.

Microsoft and Google are also prepping to battle more heartily in the smartphone space, where Microsoft plans on releasing the next version of its mobile operating system, Windows Phone 7 Series, at some as-yet-unannounced point near the end of 2010. Instead of focusing on screens of individual apps, in the manner of Google Android or the Apple iPhone, Windows Phone 7 Series consolidates applications and Web content into a series of themed "hubs," including "People," "Pictures," "Office," and "Games."