Note to Satya Nadella: Bing needs you

Microsoft moved brilliant Bing guy Satya Nadella to the Windows Server and Tools hot seat -- and now Bing's going nowhere

No matter how you slice it, Microsoft's Bing search engine holds the home field advantage. Almost all new PCs ship with Windows. Almost all of those PCs ship with Internet Explorer set as the default browser. The default IE search engine? Bing, of course. Download Windows Live Essentials? Bing comes along for the ride, asking politely if it can assume the search engine burden. Using Windows Phone 7? Bing, of course.

With all these nudges toward Bing, it's amazing that Bing's worldwide market share has been going nowhere. As of February, Bing's U.S. market share was 13.6 percent to Google's 65.4 percent. Worldwide, Bing's market share stands at 3.9 percent, and it's been around there for the past year.

Bing's future doesn't look all that bright. Firefox 4, with Google as its default browser, is scorching the download charts, far outgunning Internet Explorer 9. Chrome's playing strong catch-up, and it's all Google. Meanwhile, Windows Phone 7 is in the middle of self-immolation rites, brought on by an inability to promulgate even the simplest update. Microsoft's law department just filed a complaint with the EU Commission claiming that Google is "impeding fair competition" and stifling Bing. Yes, this is the same company that spent years defending itself against EU antitrust actions.

What's gone wrong? Bing's a decent search engine, with a few truly innovative features. What's behind the international failure to thrive?

Insiders tell me that at least some of the Bing developers feel the fire's gone out -- that the departure of former Big Binger Satya Nadella marked a turning point in Bing's development, and the new regime is having problems filling Satya's shoes.

I talked about Natella's departure in my Feb. 10 post, "Geeks vs suits: Microsoft's executive revolving door keeps spinning." The upshot: Bob Muglia has more than one foot out the door, leaving the Server and Tools business (read: Windows Server, SQL Server, and Azure) in Nadella's hands. Steve Ballmer's decision to pull Nadella off Online Services R&D and move him to the Server side of the business apparently triggered the unexpected departure of Amitabh Srivastava, who was one of several top-running candidates for Muglia's old job. Now it looks like the same move has garnered at least a few squawks among the developers who used to work for Nadella.

With more and more of Microsoft's prestige -- not to mention its cash -- rolling on the Bing bandwagon, will the newly reconstituted dev team be able to differentiate the product and grab some of Google's share? Or is there enough "anything but Microsoft" sentiment floating around internationally to scuttle any technological advantage?

Tough questions. No easy answers.

This article, "Note to Satya Nadella: Bing needs you," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.


Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.