Although Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) new Microsoft Store is being hailed by some as the first chance to purchase Microsoft products directly, that's not exactly true. Consumers have been able to buy products from Microsoft through its e-commerce Marketplace site, which was run by Digital River (NASDAQ:DRIV).

The difference between the two is that the Marketplace store offered third-party applications along with Microsoft fare, while the Microsoft Store will offer only MS software and hardware. While that hardly seems worthy of the news attention it has received, it probably just strikes people as odd that the software giant didn't have such a system in place already. And retailers won't be pleased with another outlet to bypass them while sales are already less than sluggish.

Perhaps the biggest reason behind the move is to more effectively compete with Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), which offers free programs online rivaling Microsoft's Office software. The new Azure platform Mr. Softy unveiled last week will offer programs as hosted services on the Internet, a move toward cloud computing that may put it on a more level footing with Google and other cloud-computing leaders.

CAPS member SilverSliver99 might have been suggesting this sort of advance when he wrote about how Microsoft puts out lackluster products for a time (Vista, anyone?), followed by hugely successful ones:

This is way [too] low for this juggernaut. Yes Vista is a flop, it reminds me of windows ME. After windows ME they came out with 2000, and then XP. Both were enormously [successful]. MS has had an issue then when they tried to make a major OS overhaul. ME was a stepping stone, just like Vista is. Windows 7 will be a hit. You get a 2.5% [dividend] to wait which also helps. This is the dead time before new and exciting MS things come out, as soon as the new stuff hits the shelves it will jump.

What's hot, what's not
Microsoft is just one of several stocks that, Google's search activity shows, has drawn more interest recently. Below are a few more hot stocks we've found by watching Google's search trends, which we then pair up with ratings from the Motley Fool CAPS community. Over the first 20 months of tracking the collective intelligence, the data shows that newly minted five-star stocks offer the best opportunities for investors, while the lowest-rated companies fared the worst. A five-star rating is the highest a company can get in CAPS.

By adding in some performance measures for the past year, we can get a handle on how stocks are expected to do. Here are a few drawing the most interest, according to the search engine.

Stock

CAPS Rating

Return on Capital, Past 12 Months

Long-Term Growth Estimate

Altria (NYSE:MO)

*****

57.5%

10.5%

eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY)

***

13.0%

13.8%

ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM)

****

36.4%

7.0%

Intel (NASDAQ:INTC)

****

16.6%

12.1%

Microsoft

***

44.5%

11.2%

Sources: Google Finance; Capital IQ (a division of Standard & Poor's).

Soul searching
The changes at eBay have undoubtedly exasperated a lot of Power Sellers, auction operators who generate a good chunk of the online retailer's revenue. Yet CAPS member narf029 figures the auction house will rise above its troubles:

The company has cash like crazy, and is the leader of an industry. Certainly a safe stock at a reasonable price. Don't expect this EBAY to go crazy or reach unseen heights, but it should safely go up over the next couple of years after it recovers from this crash.

According to CAPS member OtherOracleOfOMA, it's a given that ExxonMobil is a hugely successful company. This investor writes that the oil giant's undoing will be its denial of its impact on climate change:

I'm going to digress a bit from fundamental analysis here; no doubt ExxonMobil is immensely profitable, and [its] skill at sucking oil out of the ground is second to none. However, I think XOM's relentless and shameless denial of climate change will eventually come back to bite them in a big way.

You can read the full pitch on ExxonMobil's CAPS page.

Seek and ye shall find
It takes more than a brief glimpse and a few searches to make buy or sell decisions. So start your own research on these stocks on Motley Fool CAPS, where your opinion can still save the day. While you're there, you can read a company's financial reports, scrutinize key data and charts, and examine the comments your fellow investors have made -- all from a stock's CAPS page.

Microsoft and Intel are Motley Fool Inside Value selections. Google is a Rule Breakers pick and eBay is a Stock Advisor recommendation. The Fool owns shares of and covered calls on Intel. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Rich Duprey owns shares of Digital River and also owns shares of and covered calls on Intel, but does not have a financial position in any of the other stocks mentioned in this article. You can see his holdings. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.