Microsoft Search 1.0 will be available publicly tomorrow, and I for one expect to be generally underwhelmed. That’s a fairly bold prediction, I suppose, especially given that I’m not one of the rarified few who got an early look at the beta versions of their new search technology.
But I have a few reasons for my thoughts:
1) Microsoft Search doesn’t need to be better than Google or Yahoo! search to win user market share, because Microsoft’s first goal is simply to retain their existing search traffic, while depriving a competitor (Yahoo!) of said search traffic.
2) Microsoft need only show the press and analysts that it’s search is comparable to the current state of the art (with perhaps a few small ‘sizzle features’ showing minor innovation) to get the story they want.
3) Microsoft almost always plays for parity in its 1.0 releases; it’s with its 3.0 releases that it attempts to leapfrog the competition. The question here, at least in my mind, is not if this holds true, but how long the cycles are between each iteration of their product roadmap. Time is of the essence, as even though the SEM growth rate (in raw percentages) is slowing, every day of delay results in more entrenched behavior and more R&D dollars to tip the balance.
The real test for Microsoft will be their ability to create their own vibrant marketplace for paid listings (further breaking their ties to Yahoo). Unlike its competitors, MSFT has the resources to go really big to acquire small advertisers (large ones who understand ROI are a given in any marketplace that has search volume); perhaps we’ll finally see them buy Intuit, another Local Search sleeper.