The Top 10 Greatest Moments in Microsoft Internet Search History

Posted on 2009-03-24 00:32 A.Z 阅读(...) 评论(...) 编辑 收藏

It has been another standout month for Microsoft's Internet search business -- with CEO Steve Ballmer managing to create even more uncertainty about the future of the company's search brand, top executives appearing almost desperate for a search partnership with Yahoo, and Microsoft's U.S. search market share reaching another new low.

But that extraordinary series of events is just the latest milestone in a streak that future historians will no doubt look back upon as one of the most remarkable runs of the information-technology revolution. Here's a timeline of the biggest moments in Microsoft's struggle to grab hold of the Internet's front door.

July 1997: Two months before Stanford grad students Larry Page and Sergey Brin register the domain "," Microsoft signs an agreement for Inktomi Corp. to provide the technology inside its MSN Search engine. Later, Yahoo acquires Inktomi, plus Microsoft ad partner Overture -- forcing the Redmond company to rely on one of its biggest rivals to power its most critical Internet business.

Years later, interviewer Charlie Rose asks Bill Gates to explain why the company outsourced the work, given its famously huge R&D budget. "We were stupid as hell," the Microsoft chairman says.



January 2005: With Google solidly atop the search market, its name already established as a full-blown verb, Microsoft finishes its own search engine and rolls out a new MSN Search, at the address The relevance of its results is exemplified by the "Pizza in Redmond" query, which -- after being touted on MSN transit ads -- returns links for janitorial supplies and the resume of an aspiring actor whose career experience includes work as a driver for Papa John's in Redmond.

March 2006: Microsoft rolls out an overhauled Internet search engine under a new name, Windows Live Search, and at a new address, Then, having already jettisoned the well-known MSN brand, Microsoft drops the even-more recognizable Windows name and places its bets on the fledgling "Live" moniker. The new "Live Search" is the third variation of the brand since launch.





January 2008: Microsoft makes an unsolicited $45 billion bid for Yahoo -- implicitly acknowledging that it won't make big gains against Google in the short run on its own. After months of wrangling, Microsoft gives up the bid, but leaves the door open to a search partnership. To this day, a Microsoft executive commenting to the media about Yahoo sounds like a teenager talking to the friend of the girl he can't get to go to the prom.

August 2008: "Kumo" is leaked as one possible name the company may use to replace the "Live Search" brand -- potentially the fourth name change in as many years. Microsoft applies for a trademark. Months later, the company rolls out an internal test of a Live Search replacement called "Kumo," but cautions it hasn't settled on the name.

This past week, uncovers new evidence suggesting that Microsoft does plan to use the Kumo name. But the very next morning, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer practically makes fun of the name at a public event -- raising even more questions about Microsoft's plans.

October 2006: Trying to build buzz and generate more queries, Microsoft introduces "Ms. Dewey" -- an alternative Live Search home page featuring a librarian in a black dress making snarky comments about search terms. In terms of popularity and usefulness, Ms. Dewey turns out to be a Web 2.0 reincarnation of Microsoft Bob, albeit better-looking.

March 2007: Two years after rolling out its own Internet search engine, having spent billions in the process, Microsoft's U.S. market share is lower than when it began. The executive leading the Microsoft search effort, Christopher Payne, decides to leave the company to "go off and do something entrepreneurial," unrelated to the search business.

June 2007: Microsoft boosts its search market share by several percentage points -- to more than 13 percent, by some estimates. Upon closer inspection, it turns out that the jump comes from a marketing program called Live Search Club, in which people compete for prizes in puzzle games that incorporate search queries. The increase is short-lived.

September 2007: Microsoft rolls out another Live Search revamp, citing internal research to claim that its relevance is now on par with Google's results. The next month, Live Search market share drops below 10 percent in the U.S., foreshadowing even more decline in the future.



November 2008: Lured by the promise of 40 percent refunds on HP computers, would-be PC buyers flock to Microsoft's Live Search Cashback service, only to find it suffering an extended outage that prevents many of them from getting through. Those who are able make purchases get much smaller refunds than promised. Microsoft fixes those accounts, and a company representative suggests the HP promotion will be rerun for those who missed out. Later, the company calls the statement a mistake. The promotion is never rerun.

February/March 2009: Microsoft's search market share hits a new low of 8.2 percent in the U.S., according to comScore research. Live Search general manager Mike Nichols says the company "definitely underestimated the power of the category leader's brand," but that it sees room to grow by improving the search experience and increasing consumer awareness of its search technology.

"We haven't done a good job getting the word out in a way that catches fire," Nichols says. "So we've got work to do there."

[Ms. Dewey image via Matt Cutts. I shot the "Pizza In Redmond" photo while driving around the Microsoft campus as a reporter for the Seattle P-I in 2005. Also see Danny Sullivan's "Tough Love for Microsoft Search."]