Gates Dings Google, Yet Fails To Impress On Search Himself

Via
Good Morning Silicon Valley, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates let loose on Google
in an interview
with the Associated Press before his CES
keynote
yesterday, complaining of Google’s "honeymoon period" and the perception that
Google can do anything, including producing a "robot that will cook hamburgers."
Of course, Microsoft’s had its own extended honeymoon period in search. It has
failed to deliver as much as Gates says Google will fail as it branches out.
Moreover, the tired lines of slamming Google aren’t making the Microsoft case
any stronger.

Let’s deal with the key quotes from Gates first. Apparently in response to
rumors of
what Google will announce at CES, Gates said:

"I hear they’re coming out with a robot that will cook hamburgers, too.
Let’s spread that rumor ? there’s nothing they can’t do."

Continuing on, Gates said:

"Whatever they announce, they announce. They’re in their honeymoon period,
and anything they announce gets hype…. They will obviously branch out beyond
internet search, but I think the expectations won’t live up to reality."

Let’s spin that around. More than two years ago — in June 2003 — Microsoft
announced it was getting serious about search and launched the first part of its
own crawler-based search engine. We were
told then
that Microsoft thought there was plenty of room for improvement in search. Good
spin for a newcomer trying to make room in the space, but it was also true
enough.

Last February, we
finally
got the polished version of MSN Search. It didn’t deliver anything better than
Google or Yahoo or Ask Jeeves. Now a year after launch, it still doesn’t push
past Google, either in terms of relevancy as Microsoft itself admits or in terms
of traffic despite a multimillion dollar ad campaign.

How long does the honeymoon last? Because if Google’s getting a long one,
Microsoft’s had a long one too.

Hype? Microsoft still gets hype as the biggest challenger to Google when
Yahoo’s sitting around trouncing it in search and breathing much more down
Google’s neck. But Yahoo gets
largely ignored
because Microsoft is just as much a hype magnet as Google. If either Google or
Microsoft fart, someone deems it worth a news story and starts compiling a table
charting the smell and impact.

How about some substance rather than breaking wind? I’ll get to that, but
let’s recap what promises and other statements Microsoft’s given us over the
past year:

So here we are at CES, which albeit isn’t focused on search. But with Google
and Yahoo making
keynote debuts
on what was formerly Microsoft’s turf — and attracting tons
of attention in the process — maybe tossing a bone to the search crowd might
have made sense. Show off some of that expected relevancy to come. Let’s have
it. Wow us. Skip the video game fight. Give me a search engine shootout.

Instead, reading through the Gates keynote yesterday, search seemed to be
barely mentioned. Specifically, I count the word "search" or "searching"
mentioned 10 times out of 14,759 words. OK, I’ll through in 20 mentions of
"find" or stems of that word. That’s gives us 0.2% of the
text
devoted to search.

Most of those mentions are about changes to make it easier to find music
content and video content through Microsoft. Good thing, since they’ve got
plenty of competitors already doing that now. Searching for things on your
computer will be easier. Good thing again, but I’ve got plenty of tools that
already let me do that now — and people like Google beat Microsoft in offering
them. Beyond that? Search is apparently on the Start button in Vista.

Yawn.

If the continued ripping at Google for being "perfect" is getting like
beating a dead horse, the entire "search will be in the operating system" thing
is even worse. Geez, I didn’t buy that as a Google killer back in
2003 and
before. Nor since then has it proved a killer knockout. As a reminder, search is
on the Start button in XP right now. It was built into the menu of Windows 98,
for goodness sake. It’s been built into Internet Explorer since IE3, at the very
least.

How about some real search deliverables? Two months ago, Gates

said
:

"We need to surprise people and do a search that is way better than Google,
and we are very on top of that. The idea of development tools, a natural
interface, productivity software ? Google is not in any of those categories.
People are acting as if they will magically be in these other categories with
something more than a ‘me too’ offering. It is kind of fun that people
underestimate what we are going to do here."

So what, nothing to wow us at CES? Do we have to go into another year of
search vaporware? And will Microsoft complain that they’re going to get another
year of hype when anything they do gets compared to Google, despite that the press attention would be better spent on comparing Yahoo to Google?

Too harsh? These are Microsoft’s top executives talking — and talking pretty
bluntly and negatively about the competition. Let’s also recall what Ballmer

said
in June:

"In the next six months, we’ll catch Google in terms of relevancy."

As Gurtie aptly pointed out
at Threadwatch recently, those six months have now passed. Gates certainly
didn’t declare MSN Search to have surpassed Google yesterday at CES to back up Ballmer’s statement.

MSN Search has gotten better. There are a lot of good, talented people on
that product. And the former MSN Virtual Earth — now
Windows Live Local — is awesome especially
for the ability to build custom maps that mix different types of business
together. But it’s tiring to hear the Microsoft leadership just rip at Google
rather than deliver successes that speak for themselves. CES was an opportunity
for that, and it looks to have been wasted.