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Will Free Windows Serve As Billboard In Microsoft vs. Google War?

Could Microsoft wield free Windows for customers who agree to ads on their desktops?

As Microsoft and Google continue to hurtle into each other's spaces, the multi-billion-dollar question is who wins?

Can Microsoft offer Web search and targeted ad-based services to customers better than Google while also fending off Google's search and apps incursion into businesses? Or can Google penetrate the bastions of business users who now feed the Microsoft Office/Windows maw and co-opt them with its low-price (maybe even ad-funded) apps?

The jury's out but so far Microsoft's search efforts have been underwhelming. Stats show Microsoft's Live Search keeps losing ground even as it eats more resources. (Comscore's numbers show that from January 06 to last March, Google U.S. search share went from 41.4 percent to 48.3 percent; Yahoo from 28.7 percent to 27.5 percent and Microsoft from 13.7 percent to 10.9 percent.)

One long-time Microsoft partner sees possible—if pricey--salvation in the company's $6 billion buy of aQuantive.

"What if Microsoft could offer consumers a free version of Windows in exchange for a little bit of the Windows desktop?" he asks.

Customers would agree to have a scrolling banner that would change based on where the customer is. It would serve up location-based ads based on the IP address. "You would need a huge marketing/advertising engine to do something like that but thinko f the ad dollars you could generate if you could guarantee that on-screen real estate?"

He's on a roll:.

"Why force people to a browser if you can put that ad right on their [Web-connected] desktop maybe in a new version of Vista. Microsoft can do the technology but the hard part is the ad network, the branding, the packaging up of ads and putting them in HTML format and serving them up to the right people."

He stresses the importance of aQuantive's customer base and relationships. Indeed, its Web site lists an impressive array of customers from Coca-Cola and Coors to VISA and XM Radio. Hmmm.

aQuantive offers its Atlas digital marketing services'; the Avenue A/Razorfish ad agency; and DrivePM which matches advertisers with relevant customer venues,

Extrapolating even further than this partnerwas willing to go, there could be a dream (or nightmare) scenario where Microsoft-gleaned cookie information would further tailor ads based on what sites the customer visits, what searches he/she conducts and other data gathered in the process. The Google/Doubleclick combo could serve up similar, um, synergies.

Could be great for marketeers. For consumers? Maybe not so great.

Anyway, just a thought.

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