Last week, Microsoft announced its new search push at Google — and unlike Live Search, which was a joke, Bing looks to have the right stuff. The question is, can Microsoft get people to move? Palm initially looked as though it was going to get iPhone users to move, but that hope started to sputter last week. It increasingly looked like Palm would follow Netscape and Transmeta in making the mistake of scaring a competitor into corporocidal (as in “homicidal,” but with corporations) behavior. Rather than taking a bite out of Apple, it looks like Palm may be pwned.
I’ll share some thoughts on both subjects and close with my product of the week: a corporate offering that helps companies go green by giving them back lots of green cash.
Microsoft Kills Live and Goes Bing
Sometimes, I think Microsoft throws warm bodies at programs until they accidentally get it right — or its board pounds on them until they actually find competent people. Like a number of Microsoft properties, Live Search seemed to be on the wrong side of that path and really wasn’t competitive against Google at all. Ask.com was actually vastly better (which raises the question, why didn’t Microsoft just buy Ask.com?) Well, either it got lucky, or butts were kicked solidly enough so that someone actually stepped up to the plate. It turned out that Bing is rather impressive.
One of the problems Microsoft admittedly had was that people, for the most part, are pretty happy with Google. It wasn’t as though it could ask what folks wanted that Google didn’t do; people generally didn’t know. So, what Microsoft did was instrument a large number of people and capture how time was being wasted.
One thing they learned was that people were often going back and doing the same search several times, effectively using Google as an index — but a bad one — because they often didn’t get the same result and had to spend a lot of time (I know I do this) finding the thing they once had found but was now buried several layers deep in the results.
They also found that when folks wanted to compare products or prices, it was a painful process, involving lots of windows and delivering inconsistent results.
Those are just two examples of the time-wasting practices folks seemed to be engaging in when using Google. Microsoft captured an amazing amount of data through its experiment, which gave it insight on many other search behaviors.
Next, Microsoft used a variety of tools it had purchased and developed to recreate its search engine and provide an improved user experience — directly addressing the problems it had observed. This is the company’s traditional embrace-and-extend strategy: Users don’t have to do anything differently to search — they just get better results and save a substantial amount of time.
If Web surfers were coming at search fresh, I think most would now prefer Bing over Google — but that’s not the case, and Microsoft has the Apple problem of believing it has a better mousetrap while struggling to move folks who are happy with the one they’ve already got.
Marketing Excellence Will Be Critical
Until this year, Microsoft largely wasted money on marketing. Most of its efforts seemed focused on getting consumers to remember brand names, and it didn’t appear either the agencies or the executives knew what they were trying to accomplish. Microsoft seemed both to underspend and to waste the money it did spend.
That changed this year. Microsoft brought on a new agency, and the Windows campaign actually did damage to Apple. So much so, that for the first time, I saw Apple respond to a Microsoft campaign.
This would indicate that Microsoft may actually be able to run the kind of campaign that will be needed to do this, and we’ll see in a few weeks whether that is the case. Microsoft is actually coming to play this time, and Google — regardless of its control over advertising — has never shown strength in marketing, so this should be kind of interesting to watch.
Did Palm Pull a Netscape?
Trash talking a larger vendor may be fun, but it is incredibly dangerous. Over the last decade or so, I’ve watched two companies do this, and neither ended well. Transmeta announced early and scared Intel half to death, largely resulting in products like the Pentium M, Centrino, and the new Atom — but effectively putting itself out of business.
The most famous, though, was Netscape, which seemed to do everything it could to point the finger at Microsoft, call the firm stupid, and do interviews and drive stories that positioned Netscape and its founder, Mark Andreessen, as the new Microsoft and Bill Gates, respectively. This ended even worse: Netscape exists now only a name on an obscure AOL Web site. Talk about destroying billions of dollars of stockholder value.
Palm is run by a bunch of ex-Apple folks today — most of whom really have an axe to grind with their old company. If you know the history, you can hardly blame them. They knew exactly where Apple’s bodies were buried, and they created a product that positions very strongly against the first- and second-generation iPhone. The Palm Pre is not just better; it truly does leave the iPhone — if you leave out the App Store — in the dust.
The Palm folks also knew that Apple took the iPhone concept from a prototype that didn’t work to a working product (that many didn’t think would ever work) in six months. Palm has a fraction of Apple’s resources, and if Apple could close the gap, Palm would be screwed. The clock would start ticking at the point it scared Apple enough to change its offering.
That happened at CES, or around six months before the next version of the iPhone was due. During that time, folks connected to Palm trash talked Apple, likely keeping the Apple employees focused (which might not have been the case, given Steve Jobs’ absence and the hands-on role he played at the company).
Now I hear that Apple has a new iPhone coming that has been redesigned to be a Palm Pre killer, along with a refresh of its existing line — and possibly even a lower cost nano phone. At the same time, Palm is having severe manufacturing problems, and it’s tied to Sprint — the least capable of the carriers. This combination does not bode well for Palm winning this battle, even excluding the massive lead Apple has with its App Store.
I think Palm made a huge mistake in announcing as early as it did and rubbing Apple’s nose in it. It intended to take a bite out of Apple, but Apple may now simply eat Palm up.
Product of the Week: Hara Changing the World One Corporation at a Time
I’m one of those folks who believes if we don’t do something about global warming and waste, we will be up to our armpits in dead everything. The problem is that companies need to have financial incentives to go green. That’s particularly true in this market, where short-term survival trumps everything else — including, for most, long-term survival.
Hara, a Kleiner Perkins funded-company, comes out of stealth today, and it has one of the most compelling SaaS offerings — focused both on saving money and saving the planet — I’ve ever seen. Blessed by Al Gore (who was the final approver for its initial round) it provides a unique auditable offering that maximizes energy savings, as well as the collection of energy credits and government incentives. It combines systems that manage actual metrics and the most advanced estimating engine I have ever seen into something that both saves money (one on-record customer reports US$2.5M) and substantially reduces carbon footprints.
Designed to scale from municipalities to large corporations for anyone who wants to save tons of money and go green, this is worth checking out. Saving the world is important to me, so it is natural that Hara is my product of the week. Watch this company: I think it is one of those right-time, right-place things.
Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.