New Microsoft online chief: Right person, wrong job

In choosing former Yahoo exec Qi Lu to run its online efforts, Microsoft chose exactly the wrong person for the job. Lu, an exceedingly accomplished technologist, has a superb background in engineering, and particularly in online search. But he doesn't appear to have a background in business strategy, and because of that, he won't be able to fix Microsoft's problems online.

Computerworld reports that Lu comes to Microsoft after having been "vice president of engineering responsible for the technology development of Yahoo's search and marketplace business unit, which includes the company's search, e-commerce, and local listings of businesses and products."

He also has 20 U.S. patents to his name, and a Ph.D. in Carnegie Mellon University.

Clearly, Microsoft chose him hoping that his technical expertise would prove to be invaluable in helping the company gain ground on Google in search.

Put simply, though, that's not going to happen. Google owns search. It owns it today, and it will own it tomorrow. Spending too much money and resources chasing Google only hurts Microsoft, not helps it.

It's time for Microsoft to recognize that when it comes to search, it simply can't catch Google, and never will. Google's market share of search has steadily increased, while Microsoft's has steadily dropped --- down to 8.5% from 15% over three years. Yahoo, Lu's former employer, dropped from 30% to 20% in that same time.

If Lu couldn't help Yahoo catch Google, why should he be able to help Microsoft do it?

The key to succeeding online for Microsoft isn't to chase Google, but instead to play to its own strengths. And that means online versions of Microsoft Office and related services. It also means fixing the Windows Live lineup and brand, which right now is a confusing mix of incoherent, overlapping products and services.

A technologist can't fix those problems --- a business strategist can. So Microsoft needs a business strategist in charge of its online efforts. Microsoft can always use people like Lu onboard, but they've put him in the wrong job. I just hope that if Microsoft's online efforts continue to falter, he won't be used as a scapegoat.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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