Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer and Robbie Bach delivered the keynote last night at the 2010 Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas and it was the usual mixture of self-congratulatory boosterism and product and technology demos. Here is my list of highlights:
After a report on how well Windows 7 is selling, there were the PC demos including a prototype Hewlett-Packard slate PC that the technical press was pining for.
It looks like a touch enabled netbook to me and while it may have a niche, I suspect I would be screaming for a keyboard (or at least a stylus) in under a minute of usage. Perhaps more interesting were the ultrathin Lenovo A300 laptop with a 21.5" screen and the Sony VAIO home entertainment notebook with a 24" screen. How big does a laptop have to get before it becomes a single element desktop?
HP is making Bing the default Web search engine and MSN the default home page on all their PCs in 42 countries.
Ballmer put the usual lipstick on this pig and Robbie Bach appeared later to flog upcoming games (including another lucrative Halo version) and tout Project Natal, the motion sensing technology that will appear later this year to replace the standard controllers for some games.
Bach also announced Mediaroom 2.0, the latest version of Microsoft’s IPTV offering for service providers which now supports PCs and smartphoes as well as set top boxes and Xbox consoles for TV viewing.
Microsoft really did not have much of its own to show again this year. I am almost beginning to miss the goofy Bill Gates future technology skits.
After more false starts than I really care to recall, Microsoft and Yahoo today announced that they had reached an agreement to combine their Web search businesses to better compete with Google. The gist of the deal is that Yahoo is giving up on Web search and hiring Microsoft to handle it for them:
Not called out explicitly is what will happen to the Yahoo Publishers Network and Microsoft PubCenter which are rivals to Google’s AdSense in serving contextual ads to 3rd party publisher Web sites. Presumably, YPN is toast and the fledgling Microsoft PubCenter will assume their publisher relationships.
So where’s the pony? For Yahoo it is pretty clear – they dump the expense of running and monetizing a search engine while Microsoft pays them 88% of search revenue generated on Yahoo’s owned and operated (O&O) sites during the first 5 years of the agreement. (Also "Microsoft will guarantee Yahoo!’s O&O revenue per search (RPS) in each country for the first 18 months following initial implementation in that country.") Yahoo used Google for search from 2000-2004 before they tried to do it themselves – now they have shuttered the in-house effort as a failed project and gone back to a "content site" strategy.
For Microsoft. however, the pony is all in the future. They have irretrievably made Steve Ballmer’s "big bet" on search and purchased a whopping chunk of search market share – approximately 28% compared with Bing’s current 8%. Now they will have to deliver on it. The press release does not explicitly state the conditions under which either partner can ditch this deal, but the chances of it in the next few years have to be exceedingly slim.
Finally, the partners apparently suspect a length regulatory review and the agreement is not hoped to close until early 2010.
Today Microsoft unveiled its latest attempt at arresting its decline in Internet search with an enhanced Live Search rebranded as Bing:
Microsoft Corp. today unveiled Bing, a new Decision Engine and consumer brand, providing customers with a first step in moving beyond search to help make faster, more informed decisions. Bing is specifically designed to build on the benefits of today’s search engines but begins to move beyond this experience with a new approach to user experience and intuitive tools to help customers make better decisions, focusing initially on four key vertical areas: making a purchase decision, planning a trip, researching a health condition or finding a local business.
The result of this new approach is an important beginning for a new and more powerful kind of search service, which Microsoft is calling a Decision Engine, designed to empower people to gain insight and knowledge from the Web, moving more quickly to important decisions. The new service, located at http://www.Bing.com, will begin to roll out over the coming days and will be fully deployed worldwide on Wednesday, June 3.
The "decision engine" approach seems to be an an attempt to sidestep the Internet search titans of Google and Yahoo by claiming to provide a different service and experience. Don’t expect general decision making assistance however:
Microsoft’s research identified shopping, travel, local business and information, and health-related research as areas in which people wanted more assistance in making key decisions. The current state of Internet search isn’t optimized for these tasks, but the Bing Decision Engine is optimized for these key customer scenarios.
The areas identified are also ones where a lot of ads can be sold too, of course, and Microsoft can also rope in some of their other properties:
Microsoft’s mapping platform, Virtual Earth, will now be branded as Bing Maps for Enterprise. More information can be found here.
Technology from Microsoft’s April 2008 acquisition of Farecast is now a central part of Bing Travel. More information coming soon.
Microsoft’s popular cashback program, now dubbed Bing cashback, with more than 850 merchants and more than 17 million products available, will be fully integrated into the Bing Shopping experience.
While all this lucrative decision making assistance is swell, what will elevate Bing above a mere shopping site will be the way it handles day to day search queries for average Internet users. There have apparently been improvements in that regard under the covers and more visibly there is a search results "table of contents" on a sidebar to help refine queries as well as improved text previews of results via technology from acquisition Powerset. As a sample of one, Search Engine Land’s Greg Sterling says:
My overall assessment is very positive. Kumo, now Bing, has performed well and I’ve been satisfied with the results. There haven’t been any significant deficiencies or missing links (so to speak). While there have been a few occasions where I’ve found Google results to be better, the substantial gap that existed between Google and Live Search is largely gone with Bing.
Still, success will determined by the number of Internet users habitually going to Bing for Internet search. Microsoft apparently plans to spend $80 to $100 million for promotional advertising in order to bring in crowds to kick the tires at least once and then they get to vote with their mice every day.