Gates at D: MSFT Will Wear White Hat In Search

I'll be at the D conference for the next day or so. Reports will be sporadic, as there is no wireless net – I'm told Walt prefers his ballrooms blog and keyboard free. In any case, Gates was the featured luminary after dinner tonight. Furthering previous announcements about cleaning up…

bill-gatesI’ll be at the D conference for the next day or so. Reports will be sporadic, as there is no wireless net – I’m told Walt prefers his ballrooms blog and keyboard free.

In any case, Gates was the featured luminary after dinner tonight. Furthering previous announcements about cleaning up MSN’s search practices and clearly biting his tongue (or sitting on his hands, take your pick), Bill Gates tonight parried Walt and Kara’s spirited questions regarding MSFT’s search strategies with a bit of guile, some well chosen words, and a dash of humor, in particular as it related to Google (“Oh, there’s nothing they can’t do!” he joked in a mock fawning voice), a company he recently acknowledged had kicked Microsoft’s collective butt when it comes to search.

Tonight he was not as charitable – at one point saying MSFT’s goal was to be the best in search. He jokingly advised the crowd to buy Google stock and coyly refused comment as to whether he thought Google’s advantage lay mostly in marketing. He did note that the Google and MSFT culture were pretty similar (is he reading my blog!?). Some tantalizing hints came as Walt asked him about paid inclusion and the like. He repeated that Microsoft will clean up its search practices, but he seemed to hint things would go a bit further than that.

“They have a way of formatting things that has had some appeal,” Gates said. “It will be matched.”

“Web search is a incredible business,” he continued. “(But) If you want to find things that are local…it’s terrible today. If you want to find things that are of particular interest to you, it is quite terrible today.”

Gates blamed search’s shortcomings on its keyword-based approach, and argued that natural language and contextual semantic approaches will be the next leap forward.

Gates also reviewed the Longhorn strategy, at one point saying that the oft-delayed OS would be the most significant shift in Microsoft’s computing environment since the jump from DOS to Windows (the core shift being in data structures – the file system – Gates long-standing dream of having a more robust file system, which of course is a truly searchable and transportable file system.) He also mentioned that RSS and blogging was an area of particular interest within Microsoft.

UPDATE: Walt emailed me to take issue, in a nice way, with my statement about his view of blogging. He doesn’t want a blog or keyboard free ballroom, he reminds me, he wants a Wifi free ballroom, as he wants his audience to focus on the program as opposed to surfing the web or checking email. And he’s all for blogging, just not during the sessions.

11 thoughts on “Gates at D: MSFT Will Wear White Hat In Search”

  1. All of those things are true, of course, but what the heck took Gates so long to figure it out. That is what irritates the bejesus out of the company’s even nominal supporters — why can’t they be faster out of the gate, if only rhetorically. Search — whether desktop or net-based — totally escaped the company. Late-day punchy stuff like Gates’s “D” comments don’t change that.

  2. Yes, but why should microsoft be faster out of the gate? Their business model has always been to allow other companies to do their initial research, take the best ideas from them and then judo the concepts away.

    This is tremendously effective, because it costs them so little to change direction (compared with existing “entrenched” companies). I’d argue that it’s in their best interests to sit, wait, and then act once the dust settles.

    It’s also why they don’t really have a lot of members in their fan club, but that’s beside the point.

  3. And the sad thing is that Microsoft doesn’t even have to figure it out to wipe up the field. They just have to be better at meeting users’ needs, or developers’ needs or both. You can hire people to do that, you don’t need inspiration. They’re very good at studying installed bases, not so good at creating them.

    On the other hand, Silicon Valley either 1. Never learns from its mistakes or 2. Only cares about IPOs, not sustained growth. My guess is with KP, it’s mostly #2, and since they seem to be at the center of every successful IPO, that pretty much determines the direction for the valley.

  4. Ah yes, Microsoft once again following the leader. Will they take over the frontrunner position? Me thinks its hard to bet against them, they have been so consistently good at taking down the leaders, if not at first, eventually. That desktop thingie they have is a good way to support their products.
    As for KP, Dave makes a valid point. KP defines the direction in the valley, the question of course is, is this a good thing?

  5. I have to agree with Dave and JR. Who cares if they are late to the party? Being first hasn’t usually meant going home with the best looking date. It may not be as cool or heroic but learning from, adopting and adapting from others seems like a darn good survival technique to me. Same could be said about Gates comments on blogging. We will see.

  6. It will be easy for MS to take market reach away from google/yahoo but right now it doesn’t look like they’ll have a working system anytime soon.

    Not only Longhorn but also msn search get delayed again and again and google gets the desktop search starting, conquering it before MS can do so themself.

  7. Google conquering the desktop search? Please… there’s not need for a desktop search that is independent of an OS… if MS developes a ‘desktop search’ at least comparable to Google, there’s not point in downloading a Google desktop search, Bloogle desktop search, or Snoogle desktop search.

    Google now has one thing going for it… the name Google and it’s recognition. With technology officially patented to Stanford and the US Government and an Overture (ney Yahoo) patent infringement (Adwords), they also have their share of problems.

    Microsoft will have NO problem equaling the technology behind Google Search and will simply brute force them to death… while I don’t think Google will necessarily die… I’m quite certain they won’t rule for long

  8. It will be nice for Google to have some worthy competition for a change. I don’t know if and when MS will reach that point, but it will be a positive development for searchers to have more choices, and for the engines to have more competition.

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