Ballmer: Microsoft Will Be Tops In Search 'Someday'

In a Q&A Tuesday at the Search Marketing Expo in Santa Clara, Calif., Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was asked if Microsoft is capable of becoming number one in search.

"There's no good answer to this question," Ballmer responded. "If you say yes, you sound arrogant. If you say no, you sound like you have no faith. So the answer is, yes, someday."

Microsoft, whose search deal with Yahoo was recently approved by the U.S. Department of Justice and the European Commission, is aware that the commanding lead Google holds in search isn't something that can be overcome overnight.

"I don't think most people do things with the goal of being second," Ballmer said. "And yet, I think, a fair degree of realism is required about where the current state of affairs is; even when you pool the volumes from us and from Yahoo!, we've got a lot of work to do, and it's a really competitive market."

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Under the terms of the Microsoft-Yahoo deal, Bing powers Yahoo's search capabilities and Yahoo becomes the exclusive worldwide relationship sales force for both companies' premium search advertisers. But to become number one in search, Microsoft would have to leapfrog number two Yahoo, and Ballmer was asked if that would require "killing" Yahoo.

Ballmer said the more search queries that go through Bing, the more fruitful the partnership will be for both Microsoft and Yahoo. "Look, for us, the goal has got to be to expand the total amount of searches that are going on on our platform. That's one job. And we want Yahoo! to do a good job of that, and we want to do a good job of that," Ballmer said.

Microsoft's ties to the European Commission's newly opened antitrust investigation of Google was another hot topic of discussion at the event. Ballmer noted that complaints in these cases often come from rivals.

"Ultimately what's lawful and unlawful is the purview of the regulators, don't we know it, so to speak. But, as in our case, a lot of times initial complaints will come from a competitor. We're clearly a competitor; there are other competitors, as well," Ballmer said.

Microsoft is urging regulators to look at whether Google is leveraging its dominance in the search and advertising markets to lock out competitors, and it's leading the charge against Google Books.

"The book deal essentially takes somebody who has a very strong position, and gives them a stronger position relative to everybody else in the space. It doesn't seem right to me, let alone what it might mean for publishers' rights," Ballmer said.