Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said his company waited too long to assault the search market, but vowed that the software maker -- thanks to the rollout of Bing and other initiatives -- is poised to make big inroads in a tech niche that's dominated by Google.
"In our industry, the No. 1 mistake people make is that they quit too early," said Ballmer, who spoke Thursday at the Executives' Club of Chicago. "We should have started earlier, but we've got our mojo working now," Ballmer added, according to reports.
Microsoft launched Bing in late May. The so-called "decision engine" allows users to search for and purchase goods and services in just a few clicks. Bing is off to a good start. The site last week attracted 16.7% of all search users, up from 15.8% the previous week, according to market watcher ComScore. For the week of May 25, when Bing launched, its share stood at 13.7%.
Ballmer said that's proof it's not too late for Microsoft to catch Google in the lucrative search advertising market -- particularly, Ballmer said, in light of the fact that the company now has a coherent business plan around search.
"We had all these people doing search research, but we had no business model in mind," said Ballmer. "So we were slow to move and slower to invest in it. We should have started earlier."
After years of dithering, Microsoft in recent quarters has stepped up search efforts. Through the first nine months of 2008, the company committed more than $1.5 billion to acquiring search, or search-driven businesses -- including a $1.3 billion buyout of enterprise specialists Fast Search & Transfer.
Still, Microsoft's plan to target Google won't be easy. Google presently controls about 65% of the U.S. search market, while Microsoft owns only about 8%, according to ComScore. Yahoo, the No. 2 player, held 20% of the market, as of May.
Microsoft and Yahoo have held a number of talks about a possible search deal, but those discussions have yet to bear fruit.