Microsoft: Taking Search Seriously, Finally

It’s always interesting to see how quickly corporations explode into a market when all eyes in the company shift to one focus. There’s little doubt that for Microsoft, that focus is now search. Granted, initiatives like Cashback and SearchPerks may have felt like half-hearted attempts to take over the market (and I’ve said my piece on SearchPerks), but now Microsoft is putting all bets on LiveSearch, which as of late has been a pair of 5’s in a pretty gruesome poker game.

On October 2, Microsoft released plans to open a Search Technology Center (STC) to take the EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa) market by storm. In essence, Microsoft will be opening centers (or centres) in Paris, London, and Munich. These centers will not only build a network with existing global infrastructures in Microsoft, but will also work hand-in-hand to develop search technologies and an innovative workforce in the European market (and surrounding areas).

A smart, proactive move
For many of us, it’s nice to see some bold leadership. It’s no secret that there have been some stumbles since Bill Gates stepped down. However, I don’t see these struggles as the result of a big change in the company—Vista, Zune, and Xbox 360 didn’t launch overnight—but rather a series of big changes in the environment (and competitors) around the company. It’s as if Google, Apple, and Nintendo all pulled the proverbial rug under Microsoft’s feet at the same time, and now the company is looking for its footing. The STC indicates to me that Redmond is ready for round two (or eight…I haven’t kept track).

The future of search
So how important is Microsoft’s dominance (or relevance) in search? That remains to be seen, as search teeters between being a major cash source (as it is now) and being the platform for which all or most applications are run (i.e., the future as ordained by Google). I think most would agree that global warming, economic pressures, overpopulation, and an increasingly technology-equipped third world will all push us towards greater efficiency (through virtualization, green computing, and software-as-a-service apps), but there are some very realistic constraints that leave a future dominated by cloud computing hard to believe.

One thing is for sure, though: the search market is already big, and it will get bigger. Microsoft sums up the short-term future, and its goal with this recent push, in the following quote from Steve Ballmer:

“The Search Technology Centre is an important step forward in our long-term strategy to invest in local development of search technology in Europe. We believe search is still in its infancy. Developers at the Search Technology Centre will play a key role in helping us redefine search as they create new search products and services for consumers and advertisers here in Europe and around the world.”

Search in its infancy? Maybe, but I’d probably describe it more as a pre-teen, still trying to find itself. But when it does level off, who will stand at the top? Let the games begin.

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