Ballmer Readies Debut of Kumo, er, Bing

Microsoft this week plans to debut its new search engine and the strategy behind it, but its choice for a new name — reportedly “Bing” — may already be taken. Whatever the new moniker, however, AdvertisingAge is reporting Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) plans to invest $100 million to promote the new branding.

The announcement of the replacement for Microsoft’s Live Search will come at this year’s D: All Things Digital conference in Carlsbad, Calif. — even though that bit of news was revealed last week by the conference sponsors’ site.

CEO Steve Ballmer will introduce the new, or updated, search technology at D, the same venue where he introduced the company’s Surface computer.

Meanwhile, several news sites report that Microsoft last week registered to set up a “limited liability corporation” or LLC, in Delaware, often the first step before a takeover bid or the start of a joint venture with another firm. That alone caused rumors to begin flying as to whether Microsoft is preparing to buy out remote connectivity stalwart Citrix Systems (NASDAQ: CTXS) or to set up a revenue sharing deal with Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO).

“This is Microsoft taking Google to the mat [and it’s] going to be highly contested,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group, told InternetNews.com.

“[Users] aren’t comfortable with change, so Microsoft doesn’t have to be better than Google; it’s got to be best,” he added.

So far, however, Microsoft has been quiet about its latest search plans.

The announcements come as Microsoft is readying a new assault against its search nemesis — Google (NASDAQ: GOOG). However, they also have to be viewed from the perspective of last year’s failed hostile bid for, first, all of Yahoo and, later, just the firm’s search business. Lately, Microsoft senior executives have repeatedly, and publicly, expressed their desire for some kind of collaboration with Yahoo.

New Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz has not publicly indicated whether she is in favor of such a deal or not. What causes the rumor pot to boil even hotter, though, is the fact that Bartz is also on the bill to speak at this year’s conference. Ever since the approach towards Yahoo tanked last summer, every whisper that the two companies may be talking again generates new waves of speculation about a potential deal.

Next page: Securing $4 billion in debt

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It doesn’t cool the rumors either that Microsoft recently secured nearly
$4 billion in debt
, which could be a step towards some kind of acquisition or other large investment.

“Kumo” can be translated as either “cloud” or “spider” in Japanese. It is unclear where the name “Bing,” which reports say is likely to be the official name, came from.

Complicating things for Microsoft is news, reported by Microsoft Live enthusiast site LiveSide.net, that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) last week informed Microsoft that it could not trademark Bing because another firm already owns it. LiveSide.net published excerpts from the USPTO’s letter.

Microsoft’s challenge

No matter what it’s called, Microsoft cannot significantly grow its market share without two things occurring, Enderle said.

“For Microsoft to move the ball forward, Microsoft not only has to be a lot better than Google, but users have got to be very dissatisfied with Google,” Enderle added. For instance, something that might cause users to be dissatisfied might be the recurrence of recent outages that Google experienced.

Still, Google remains by far the world’s largest search provider. Web statistics tracker Net Applications’ latest figures show Google handles 81.4 percent of all searches globally.

Yahoo comes up a poor second with 9.6 percent, while Microsoft’s consumer search properties — Live Search and MSN Search — combined, bring up third place with 5.4 percent.

Microsoft is also preparing an advertising campaign to support Kumo/Bing marketing that could run as large as $80 million to $100 million, according to an article Monday in AdvertisingAge.

A Microsoft spokesperson declined to comment regarding Kumo/Bing or other as yet un-made announcements. Ballmer’s appearance is scheduled for Thursday, according to another spokesperson.

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