Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) has always done a whiz-bang job of confusing its online search users. And it's about to get even worse.

Think I'm being unfair to the king of all software? Consider this litany of names for Microsoft's search service of the past, present, and future:



MSN Search

Easy enough. This one's still around, too.

Live Search

Sinking in a sea of other Live brands, from rock bands to Regis to Canadian radio stations.

Windows Live Search

Think that's the same thing as Live Search? Think again. You get slightly different search results under the Windows Live moniker.


Code name for the upcoming search interface overhaul. Okay, Kumosabe.


Rumored final name for the Kumo refresh.

Looking at that timeline, stretching back to 1998 or so, you can see the association with the mighty Microsoft brand itself diluting away to nearly nothing. MSN means MicroSoft Network after all, and Windows is one of its key products. Live at least means something to English speakers, while Kumo and Bing sound like random Scrabble letters picked out of a hat.

Compare this to Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), which has stayed with one brand since birth a decade ago. Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) may have switched search engine providers from Inktomi to Google to its own internal efforts, but the Yahoo Search name stayed the same. And Ask Jeeves simplified to when IAC/InterActive (NASDAQ:IACI) took over operations -- but the Ask moniker stayed identifiable throughout its history.

Early reports say that Kumo/Bing is simply a new interface to the same back-end data you get from Live or MSN today. The new presentation of categorized links with snazzy Web 2.0-type mouse-over information looks great, but it's hardly groundbreaking stuff in the age of Wolfram|Alpha and the constant flood of graduating Google Labs features.

And Microsoft's problem in the search market isn't technical anyways -- it's a jumbled branding message. The $80 million to $100 million of bling that AdAge says Microsoft will spend on marketing Bing would have been way better spent on a name that reminds you of what you're using.

MSN Search too vanilla? Try Microsoft Search to keep the service in the family. Or how about Windows Search, sans Live? But no, Redmond had to go ahead and confuse us twice over with a foreign-sounding code name and a different but equally obtuse launch brand. This dithering explains why Microsoft isn't the king of the Internet, too.

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