If you can't beat 'em, surround 'em.
That's Microsoft's search motto, according to Steve Berkowitz, Senior Vice President of Microsoft's Online Services Group, who keynoted the Search Engine Strategies (SES) conference in New York on April 11.
"It's going to be the things we surround search with that is going to make it better, more enticing," said Berkowitz. We are more than search. With (Windows Live Hotmail) mail, (Windows Live) Messenger and (Windows Live) Spaces, the company has tremendous trove. We are going to be about integrating search into all those things."
Berkowitz told the audience to expect Microsoft to integrate "more social content" -- specifically more "social networking and pre-programmed content" -- into MSN going forward. And while Microsoft will continue to work on improving its share of "destination-driven search," it will focus equally, if not more, on "convenience search," or search integrated into "experiences," like gaming, online chat, and the like, Berkowitz said.
Berkowitz, who oversees marketing, sales and business development for Microsoft's MSN and Windows Live properties, spent about 45 minutes on Wednesday morning answering questions from Search Engine Strategies host Danny Sullivan in front of the SES audience.
Sullivan asked Berkowitz whether Microsoft -- which has been struggling to gain market share vs. Google and Yahoo -- whether Microsoft would be content to remain No. 2 or 3 in search. Berkowitz's response: "It's never not satisfactory to not be Number 1."
Predictably, Berkowitz wouldn't say much about ongoing rumors that Microsoft might/should buy or cut a deal with Yahoo to shore up its search share. When asked about those rumors by Sullivan, Berkowitz replied: "My goal in next 12 months is to focus on the organic goal we already have."
He said Microsoft is very focused on turning users into searchers, to get them to use Mail, Messenger, Spaces and MSN, and to leverage the company's assets, from Xbox to Office.
"Expect to see search more integrated into MSN in a cleaner, more thoughtful way," Berkowitz told SES attendees.
Berkowitz emphasized several times during his remarks that Microsoft's deep pockets are allowing the company to invest in search-related research. He noted that search's current text-based interface is moving to a graphical interface. Rich media will be integrated into search "at some point in time," he said.
Berkowitz also ranted against the way that "craplets" have come to dominate the typical PC user's initial experience of the user interface. He said that the kinds of deals -- via which Microsoft sells Windows screen real estate to app vendors, ISPs and other third-party software and service vendors and does Windows Live Search preload deals with PC makers like Lenovo -- could become a thing of the past.
Customized user experiences, such as Alienware PCs that feature some kind of gaming-specific user interface, from the get-go, ultimately will become the order of the day, Berkowitz predicted.
He also hinted at Microsoft's Cloud OS, without sharing new specifics about Microsoft's plans there. "Microsoft has advantages of scale and reach," Berkowitz said, and has made substantial investments in technologies ranging from datacenters to storage of photos and video.
"Basically, we're moving the server from your office to cloud," Berkowitz said.
"How do we extend Windows' presence, (meaning) the value proposition that Windows delivers?" Berkowitz asked rhetorically. By being able to use a common set of identity credentials, like Windows Live ID, a common address book across from the desktop to the cloud -- the same way "you take your cell phone number where you go," Microsoft will extend Windows onto the Internet," Berkowitz added.