Could Google-China Spat Help Microsoft Bing?

The most recent example came earlier this month when Motorola and Microsoft inked a deal to include Bing services on Motorola Android devices in China. The deal, which includes a pre-loaded Bing bookmark in the mobile browser and an enhanced search widget with Bing integration, gives Motorola a way to bring Android devices to China without getting involved in the Google-China spat.

Baidu is still the dominant search engine in China, so any gains Microsoft might see as a result of Google's departure would be minimal. But given Bing's slow growth rate, Microsoft will look to gain share wherever possible, says Andrew Brust, chief of new technology for twentysix New York, a Microsoft partner in New York City.

"I think Microsoft can and will be aggressive in building out Bing's franchise wherever they see an opportunity, and I'm sure China is no exception," Brust said.

Microsoft isn't commenting on the prospect of expanding its business in China, but the software giant's tone suggests that it's happy with the way its business is going in the country.

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"We have done business in China for more than 20 years and we intend to continue our business there," a Microsoft spokesperson said in an e-mail statement. "We also regularly communicate with governments, including the Chinese, to advocate for free expression, transparency, and the rule of law. We will continue to do so."

This rosy view contrasts with the reality that China has for years been a global hotbed for software piracy, not to mention an undeniably huge headache for Microsoft. The relationship has grown more strained in recent years as Chinese authorities have grown annoyed with the extent of Microsoft's efforts to combat software piracy in the country.

In October 2008, a Chinese lawyer sued Microsoft over its Windows Genuine Advantage anti-piracy mechanism, accusing the company of being the "biggest hacker in China." In June 2008, the Chinese government's State Intellectual Property Office reportedly launched antitrust investigations against Microsoft and several other software vendors for charging more for their products in China than in other countries.

Despite this rocky history, Microsoft could benefit in other ways from Google's decision to thumb its nose at Chinese authorities. If China blocks Google's Hong Kong site on the Mainland, that could drive more Chinese users to Windows Live, Office Web Apps, hosted and on-premise SharePoint and the full Office client, according to Brust.

While it's too early to tell of the "enemy of my friend" mentality will lead to better relations between Microsoft and China, it's certainly possible that relations could warm if Google is out of the picture.