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Microsoft's Very Own “Death Spiral” (on the Web)

Microsoft is Dying Online, Desperate for Yahoo! Deal

"I’d be glad to help tilt lotus into into the death spiral. I could do it Friday afternoon but not Saturday. I could do it pretty much any time the following week."

--Brad Silverberg, Microsoft executive



Spiral stairway



Summary: In Microsoft's latest attempt to "tilt Google into the death spiral," it reaches out for allies

THE STRUGGLE to stay relevant in the Web era is a key one to Microsoft and the phrase "tilting <Company_name> into the death spiral" is rather common in the company's internal communication. Since GNU/Linux is not tied to any one company, Microsoft's current "tilt" attempt is directed at Google, whose market cap almost equates to Microsoft's.

So what is a Steve Ballmer to do?

The company has gone as far as the manufacturing of lies, but figures that are not paid for by Microsoft indicate that the company's steady decline carries on. The Wall Street Journal wrote about this in the context of ongoing talks between Microsoft and Yahoo.

But who needs a deal? Ballmer also set off a whole new round of Yahoo speculation, saying he would be open to discussing a search partnership with Yahoo’s new chief, Carol Bartz.

Sure, Ballmer’s statement isn’t really anything new; he has been panting after Yahoo’s search capabilities for months, and he reiterated at the software giant’s strategy update in late February that he preferred a search deal with Yahoo but no outright acquisition. And make no mistake: the only things that have changed since Ballmer last made eyes at Yahoo are the passage of time and the fact that the Sunnyvale, Calif., company has a new chief executive.

[...]

But on the flip side, both Microsoft and Yahoo still are losing market share in Internet search, and Standard & Poor’s analyst Jim Yin expects that Microsoft “will continue to lose marketshare in Internet search engine,” according to a March 11 research note. That decline has been visible over the past two years at both Microsoft and Yahoo, and there is little reason to expect that to ease or reverse itself.


That last remark is not exactly news. Going a week back, InternetNews claimed that "Microsoft U.S. Searches Sink to 12-Month Low." This is representative of some other areas including Azure that's going offline, Hotmail that's losing users (mostly to Google), and other units that are being shut down as part of a trend.

Microsoft's share of U.S. searches last month fell to its lowest level in a year, according to Web tracking firm comScore.

The latest data show that Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) garnered only 8.2 percent of all U.S. search queries in February, slipping from 8.5 percent in January. The company had previously held a 9.6 percent share in February 2008.


Microsoft is now leaning towards Yahoo! as a harbour [1, 2] that's of little or no use, unless they wish to harm Free software.

A year ago -- and only a month or so after Microsoft's initial bid for Yahoo -- Microsoft's CFO seriously considered buying Yahoo and go into over $20 billion in debt. But no longer is Microsoft truly interested in buying companies for growth, maybe because Microsoft is in debt territories even without Yahoo [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]. According to Dow Jones (via CNN):

Microsoft CEO Sees Fewer Acquisitions



[...]

Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) Chief Executive Steve Ballmer said Thursday he expects less acquisition activity in the economic downturn since targets will be less likely to sell at depressed valuations.


Dina Bass, who has some inside connection with Microsoft, wrote the following in Bloomberg:

Microsoft will experiment with new business models and ways to present Web search results, Ballmer said. So far, its efforts haven’t made much headway with users. The company controls a smaller portion of the Web search market than it did four years ago, when it switched from using Yahoo! Inc.’s search technology. Building market share will be a step-by-step process, Ballmer said.


As Ars Technica shows in its new article, titled "Why Microsoft continues with search: it's still not solved," this is a purely technical issue. Microsoft is currently rebranding, once again renaming (Kumo), and changing the outside appearance of its search engine, but it's the underlying engine which must change. Microsoft has already suspended plans to build a datacentre in Iowa, so its ability to expand and grow in this crucial business area seems highly limited.

Some days ago, one of Microsoft's talking heads called Preston Gralla, started yelping -- yet again -- about Google being a monopolist. This is part of a strategy that began 2-3 years ago when Microsoft tried to portray Google as what a major newspaper called "evil empire" and Microsoft even donated money to this daemonisation cause. Gralla, who does Microsoft/Windows stuff for a living, is using his appointment in the Microsoft-funded IDG [1, 2, 3, 4, 5] to constantly attack Google and attack GNU/Linux, which are Microsoft's biggest competitive threats. That is all Microsoft has left. It can't compete based on quality, so it also sued Linux and encouraged companies to sue Google, maybe even Apple.

“Microsoft has already suspended plans to build a datacentre in Iowa...”Returning to Bloomberg, Bass also wrote this article about Microsoft trying to sneak its way into search using agreements (probably a reference to buying exclusivity, i.e. buying one's way to market share). Mozilla complained about this tactic only a couple of days ago (direct link).

Steve Ballmer is still trying to form a partnership with Yahoo (like the one they so hypocritically blocked when Google came over to Yahoo's rescue). Mary Jo Foley informs that Microsoft claims to have held only a single meeting with Carol Bartz.

Although you’d never know it from most of the headlines today, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said he has had only one meeting so far with Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz since she became CEO. And it sounds — at least according to Ballmer’s remarks — that he and Bartz did little more than exchange pleasantries.


There is a lot more news coverage about this at the moment. The last impression varies depending on the source:



Yahoo is already caving somewhat, having promoted Firefox 3.0 when it was new*. Here is some interesting news about IE8, which has just been released.

Microsoft IE8 Browser Seeks To ‘Accelerate’ Searching, Yahoo Adds ‘Visual Shortcuts’ To Search Box



[...]

The other development I wanted to discuss is Yahoo’s “visual search shortcuts.” This operates from the search box on the browser toolbar. Yahoo must first be selected as the search provider in the IE 8 search box (Live Search is the default). If you then enter a query you see search suggestions but also “shortcuts” for certain categories of information: stocks, movie showtimes, movie reviews and weather.


What is this technical linkage about and when did it come into play?

As one last and very secondary note, IE8 is nothing to care about. Despite Mossberg's good relationship with Microsoft, IE8 failed to impress him and the same goes for TechCrunch, which writes:

With IE8, Microsoft Ignores One Third Of The Market



[...]

[S]peed is really everything. Without speed, all the other features fall by the wayside. You can't enjoy a WebSlice (which is a slice of a Webpage that is constantly updated) if it takes forever to load. And if you look at Internet Explorer's market share, it has steadily been eroded over the past few years by its faster rivals Firefox, Safari, Chrome, and Opera. We'll have to wait for new independent speed tests to see how IE8 stacks up, but speed does not appear to be its strong point.

Microsoft is doing what it always does: focusing on its massive installed base of users and ignoring the rest. If you've already left IE for a speedier browser, IE8 is not going to bring you back, and Microsoft knows it. For instance, Internet Explorer long ago turned its back the Mac and IE8 will be no different. There will be no Mac version, even though Macs continue to gain market share against PCs.


Bundling and integration that violate the rules seem to be the last card in Microsoft's deck for renaissance on the Web. The best tagline for IE8 to have might be "too little, too late." The same goes for Microsoft's Web ambitions. _____ * Yahoo was headed by Yang and Decker back then [1, 2, 3], but Microsoft fought them until its potential insider, Carl Icahn, played a role in pushing Yang out.

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