The question that won't go away: What comes after Yahoo?

During an appearance at the Citi Global Technology Conference on September 4, Microsoft Chief Financial Officer Chris Liddell faced the same question that he's been answering for months: What is Microsoft's online strategy now that the company has decided against buying Yahoo?

During an appearance at the Citi Global Technology Conference on September 4, Microsoft Chief Financial Officer Chris Liddell faced the same question that he's been answering for months: What is Microsoft's online strategy now that the company has decided against buying Yahoo?

And Liddell's answer to that question hasn't changed: Microsoft will continue to grow its online business organically while making smaller acquisitions in the space.

Liddell spoke and fielded questions for close to an hour. He brushed aside one attendee's question about Microsoft's thoughts on Google's recently introduced Chrome browser by saying Microsoft constantly fields new competitors across all of its products. (Liddell's hasty dismissal looked particularly bad, given the latest browser stats showing Internet Explorer continuing to lose market share, albeit, just a point.)

Other Liddellisms from his appearance (which I listened to via Webcast):

* He said Microsoft was planning back in December 2007 on making the Xbox price cuts it announced this week. He said that the cuts were already embedded in the company's financial guidance with it provided Wall Street analysts this summer.

* Liddell called Microsoft's online group the part of the company he is "least happy with," but said again Microsoft views online as a "multi-year journey" in which it will continue to invest for the foreseeable future.

* He said to expect Microsoft to spend half of its $2 billion in capital expenditures in the coming year on improving basic facilities for all of its employees and the other half on building out is online datacenter infrastructure.

* Microsoft still could be interested in a search deal with Yahoo, Liddell said, even though he called the former Microsoft acquisition target a "declining asset." He also cautioned attendees that Microsoft won't suddenly go out and make another large online acquisition "just to get scale."

* He said Vista is a product that "we (Microsoft) feel better about internally than others feel externally about it." He cited Gartner predictions that by the end of this year Vista will be installed on more PCs than XP was at this point in its lifecycle.

One question I was curious about -- besides Liddell's take on Chrome -- but which no one asked: Why is CEO Steve Ballmer keynoting the Consumer Electronics Show in January? Microsoft had definitely led folks to believe that Microsoft President of Entertainment and Devices Robbie Bach would be filling Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates' shoes in that annual ritual? (Maybe it's simply because all of the other CES keynoters are CEOs ?)

I also would have echoed another conference attendee's question about Windows 7 and Office 14 -- namely, if Microsoft really is intending on fielding the final versions of its next-generation Windows and Office releases in 2009, as I and others are hearing, when the heck are the semi-public and/or public betas for these products going out? Liddell refused to comment.