Many had assumed the Ballmer era would end when his youngest child goes off to college, roughly in about a decade or so: he even hinted to that effect himself. Despite these earlier comments, the ever outspoken executive now seems to be quite frustrated over the apparent failures of Live Search, and will stay on until it becomes a success.
According to commenters in this post on Mini-Microsoft, and subsequently confirmed by Mary Jo Foley, Ballmer told employees that he would stay on as head of the company until Live Search’s market share bests Google’s.
The comment is almost unbelievable on its face. Does Ballmer really think that Microsoft will be able to turn its search fortunes around? As it stands right now, the company is going the wrong way. Web analytics firm comScore posted numbers Thursday that showed Live Search continues to lose share in the US.
For August, Microsoft garnered a 8.3 percent share, down .6 percent, while Google gained over 1 percent to finish with 63 percent of the market. Its share of queries also took a hit, down 7 percent over the previous month to 977 million. This marks the first time since May that the company has fallen below a billion queries, and follows a period where Microsoft had shown some growth.
I just cannot see at this point any viable way — short of monopolistic behavior — that will allow Microsoft to come anywhere close to equaling Google’s share of the market, much less surpass it. Maybe the Justice Department’s new-found interest in Google’s advertising practices and the threat of antitrust action may help Microsoft out, but I doubt it will do much.
Maybe the answer to whether we should really believe that Ballmer means what he says lies in understanding the man himself. Those who have watched him all know that he’s been known to make some pretty crazy statements, and his enthusiasm has been known to get the best of him at times, so maybe its best to keep in mind that this may be one of those cases. You never know, however.