Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT ) may be a headless ghost at the moment, but it's not going to shut down its Scroogled website as it seeks out new leadership.
Scroogled was launched ahead of last year's holiday shopping season to attack the ad-based nature of Google's (NASDAQ: GOOG ) Shopping hub.
Microsoft's latest target is the nature of Google serving up ads in classroom.
Microsoft is rolling out the Bing for Schools pilot program, offering grade schools an ad-free search engine at no cost. Now, it's easy to see why Microsoft is doing this. Despite taking over Yahoo!'s paid search business a couple of years ago, the combination of Bing and Bing-powered searches on Yahoo! still accounts for less than a third of all queries. Google still owns this space.
Getting schoolchildren to try Bing at school without ads could sway them to try it at home with ads. Teach 'em young.
It's not perfect, of course. The search queries may not have sponsored listings, but the same can't be said for the websites that they will eventually reach. Google's AdSense program is the top choice for third-party publishers, so Big G would be getting the last laugh there.
However, Microsoft may want to take it easy on Google these days because there's a decent chance that it will poach a Google executive to serve as its new CEO.
It's hard to argue with history. Microsoft and Google may be fierce enemies, but hiring ex-Googlers paid off handsomely at Yahoo! last year and AOL before that. Yahoo! shares have roughly doubled since Marissa Mayer took the helm last summer. AOL has also beaten the market since Tim Armstrong's arrival four years ago.
Sure, Microsoft doesn't have to be chummy with Google to wrestle away a key hire. In fact, making some noise may be the best way to draw attention. However, even a scorned Google executive may not be cool with joining a company with a website dedicated entirely to bashing Google's business practices.
Microsoft obviously has a universe outside of Google to find its new CEO. Rock star choices include Sheryl Sandberg and Elon Musk. Apple also has no shortage of well-regarded executives that could provide a perfect fit with Microsoft's dream of refashioning itself as a premium products and services company. There's been enough unrest at Apple since its stock peaked late last year that Microsoft may be able to woo a big name. No one can get consumers to shell out a premium for a product the way that Apple has in recent years.
The only thing that's practically a given is that Microsoft won't promote from the inside. The stock had its biggest single-day gain in more than four years on Friday because investors want fresh eyes here. That's not going to come from the folks that were working under Ballmer.
As the world's largest software company, Microsoft will be able to attract many interested tech heroes to consider stepping in to turn the company around. No one from Google may even be considered. However, it would be a good idea to at least tone down its Scroogled site until it lands a new visionary.
It's hard to coordinate and possibly even justify an attack when you're looking for a new general to lead the way.
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