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Let's See Microsoft Innovate Its Way Out of This

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Old 05-09-2008
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Let's See Microsoft Innovate Its Way Out of This
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From way over in Indonesia, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates let it be known that Microsoft never needed to buy Yahoo to make headway in search and advertising. It just kind of wanted to.
"We have always felt we could do very well on our own and now that's the path we are focused on," Gates told AP in Jakarta on Friday. "The standard strategy for us is to just hire great engineers and surprise people at how well we can compete, even with a company that's got a strong lead."
Actually, that may be the first bit of sense out of Microsoft since the Yahoo thing first emerged. That is exactly what Microsoft is good at: identifying market leaders in interesting new tech markets, then systematically destroying them. In fact, Microsoft is probably better at it than maybe any company in history. Netscape, Lotus, WordPerfect, Novell, Real Networks ... there's a long list of companies that invented something that Microsoft then copied and took down. And Windows, of course, was a copy of what Apple and Xerox were doing. Now Microsoft's Zune is taking aim at the iPod.
Microsoft is at its best when it does this. It spends billions of dollars a year on Microsoft Research, but has yet to invent an entirely new business. (Microsoft did once get out in front of a tech development, creating travel site Expedia early on. So surprised was Microsoft that it did this, the company soon thereafter spun out Expedia -- perhaps so Expedia would not contaminate the Microsoft culture with actual market innovation.)
The thing is, though -- search so far is looking like Microsoft's Waterloo. Yeah, it's won every big battle so far, but Microsoft has spent vast amounts of time and money trying to crack search -- and so far has failed. Can it beat Google at Google's own game? That seems unlikely. Can it outwit Google and create an innovative new version of search that Google never thought of? That would be very un-Microsoftian.
So ... now what?

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