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Jumping Out of Windows Could Lead to a Hard Fall

Maybe this really is a bridge too far. Maybe Google, Microsoft's competitor all over the Web -- but especially in the search space -- really is too far ahead, too established and too innovative for Redmond to catch up. Maybe the reigning search king learned valuable lessons from the saga of Netscape, which raced ahead of Microsoft in the browser space but is now just a fond piece of ‘90s nostalgia. Maybe Redmond has met its match in the company whose name has made that all-important transition from noun to verb.

Or maybe Microsoft's Internet-focused MSN division has been struggling to catch Google because the Seattle boys can't run their normal game plan, the one Redmond used to kill Netscape, among many others -- stick something in the ubiquitous Windows operating system or the Office suite, push users to it and crush non-integrated, competitive applications in the process. If you read last Wednesday's newsletter, you know that Google thinks that Microsoft is trying to do just that with a feature in Internet Explorer 7 that would steer users toward Microsoft's search engine and away from Google. Microsoft has also slapped the Windows name on its Web services, calling them Windows Live and perhaps trying to gently remind users that it's not always a good idea to use applications that are floating out in the ocean rather than sailing on the Windows mother ship.

But this is a different world, and Microsoft knows it. Redmond is out of its element now -- in trying to compete with Google, it has jumped out of Windows. The dominance of Windows can't save Microsoft the way it has in the past partly because Microsoft hasn't figured out how to form an unbreakable bond between Windows and MSN's offerings and partly because Google is too well-established on the Web now for Microsoft to sneak up on it. Redmond owns the desktop, but Google owns the Web. And Google consolidates that ownership every time Microsoft tries and fails to chip away at its dominance.

And Microsoft has tried -- and is still trying. Redmond is getting ready to spend an enormous amount of money -- more than $1 billion, a hefty chunk even by Seattle standards -- on MSN in fiscal 2007 (starting July 1), and the Wall Street Journal is kicking up old rumors about Microsoft buying, or at least partnering with, search No. 2, Yahoo.

All of this smacks of something we don't often sense from Microsoft: desperation, maybe even doubt. It would be way over the top to say that the Web wars will make or break the world's most powerful software company; that's just not true. But, spending a huge amount of money on MSN and not getting enough in return could certainly damage Microsoft financially -- and impact partners who rely on Microsoft to be a rock of stability when they sell its technology to wary companies. Plus, failing to conquer a category as huge as Web services could call Microsoft's hegemony in the technology industry as a whole into question in the years to come.

Do you think Microsoft has what it takes to win on the Web? Let me know at [email protected].

Now Maybe Redmond Will Know Just How Far Behind MSN Really Is
Microsoft, perhaps wanting to know just how big the Google gap really is, went out and bought Web analytics vendor DeepMatrix last week. Redmond's new analytics tool will compete with Google's offering, Google Analytics.

Microsoft also says its online advertising platform -- another Google competitor -- is ready to go now, and not in June as planned. Microsoft, coming out with something early? How nice! Kind of makes up for that Vista delay, huh? Maybe not.

It's Not Easy Having Green
Bill Gates says he doesn't like being the world's richest man. Aside from our suspicion that he's just saying that to make Larry Ellison, Steve Jobs and his other tech-money rivals fume with jealously, one comment he made to the Associated Press about being on the top of the money heap really stood out: "There's nothing good that comes out of that."

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Really, Bill? Nothing? Nothing at all? Wasn't it at least kind of cool to have the president of China in your living room? Isn't it sort of nice not to have to worry about coming up with the money for the mortgage every month? Beyond that, Bill, we beg to differ. A lot of good has come from you being the world's richest man, mainly because of how you've chosen to spend so much of your money. You're the world's largest charitable giver, and you're doing a lot of legitimate good around the globe. And that's a good thing.

Besides, anything that makes Larry Ellison fume with jealously can't be all bad.

What would you do with Bill Gates' money? Drop me a line at [email protected].

He Told Me I Had Money Waiting for Me in Nigeria
Maybe the whole "do not spam" warning was just too tempting. Some spammer has (finally) started targeting the Blue Frog anti-spam list. So, if you're on this list and someone sends you a message begging you to go to Africa to hold a deposed dictator's money for a while, we're pretty sure you can go ahead and delete that one.

Posted by Lee Pender on May 08, 2006