Will Microsoft's Kumo take a bite out of Google Search?

Analysts say Google has been rock solid but Microsoft (Bing?), WolframAlpha taking aim

The release of Wolfram Alpha Inc.'s WolframAlpha fact engine last week and the expected unveiling of Microsoft Corp.'s new search engine tomorrow are creating some unease for longtime search champ Google Inc.

The unusual activity in the search engine business has analysts looking less on the specific capabilities of WolframAlpha or Microsoft's new Kumo tool, and more at how Google will respond. The search giant's name has become synonymous with search, but Google has rarely faced the hype surrounding WolframAlpha or the marketing and advertising muscle of tech behemoth Microsoft.

"Microsoft has had lots of time to study what users want and need in search, and given a compelling product, it's possible that they can grab some share from Google," said Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group, Inc. " Google is definitely under pressure from Microsoft and Yahoo Inc. in the short term and from WolframAlpha in the longer term.

"However, it's hard to overstate the strength of [Google's] current position," Olds added. "They have a huge share of the search market and they will be hard to unseat. That said, Google can't become complacent. That's the kiss of death in this business."

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is on the Thursday agenda to speak at the All Things Digital Conference in Carlsbad, California. He's widely expected to unveil the company's new search engine, the successor to Microsoft's less-than-beloved Live Search. Various reports have hit the Internet in the past few days, noting that Microsoft will officially dub the new search engine Bing.

Microsoft, which has not even confirmed the upcoming release of the search engine, has been keeping Kumo - or Bing - well under wraps in the last several months, despite persistent rumors and speculation.

Microsoft is expected to include some of the features of the Powerset search engine it acquired last June from San Francisco-based startup Powerset Inc. The Powerset technology attempts to understand the full meaning of phrases people type while searching, and then returns results based on that understanding.

Jim McGregor, an analyst at In-Stat, said Microsoft seems to be working hard to create technology that can provide users with the information they need with fewer clicks and to apprise them of information they might not have even known existed.

He added that the new tool is part of Microsoft's long-term plan to move beyond its stronghold in the PC operating system business and capture a more significant Web presence. "They need this for their future growth," said McGregor. "With everyone moving toward a lightweight, mobile Internet, people don't need a PC or a big operating system. It's a big change. Microsoft doesn't need to unseat Google but they do need to get a Web presence."

And both McGregor and Olds say it's a good thing that Microsoft isn't looking to quickly knock Google off its top perch. The software giant may be taking aim at Google's stranglehold on the search market, but there's little chance that the search leader will be hurt anytime soon.

"Google has done a great job of keeping its eye on the ball and not becoming sidetracked," said Olds. "They know that search is their bread and butter, and will do whatever it takes to defend that turf. In my view, the renewed thrust by Microsoft, and Yahoo is welcome. It will spur Google to up the ante with new developments of its own."

McGregor agreed.

"Google is not going to sit back and let competition come after it," he added. "They'll innovate. I think that with all this competition, we'll see some pretty cool new search features and tools."

Elizabeth Montalbano of the IDG News Service contributed to this article.

Tags GoogleMicrosoftbingwolfram alphasearch engines

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Sharon Gaudin

Computerworld

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