The Yahoo deal is dead...or at least that's what Ballmer wants everyone to believe. As I read this recent BusinessWeek article about Microsoft's future I couldn't help think about the opportunity that's sitting right under Bill & Co.'s nose: advertising in Office and Windows.
Everyone gets hammered with advertising throughout the day, both online and offline. Given all the ads you see in a typical browser session do you think your day would really change that much if you saw additional ads in Outlook, Excel, etc.?
Here's the kicker: You (or your company) would get a cut of the advertising income. You're working through your Outlook in-box and there's a new pane set up to show context sensitive ads as you flip from one message to another. (Sounds like Gmail, right?) The advertiser pays Microsoft and Microsoft in turn credits an account for you. (Sounds better than Gmail, right?) In the corporate setting it's more likely there would be a single company account where the revenue accumulates, which means the company earns the income; sorry, but I'd doubt most companies would let you make a few extra bucks while you're on the clock. How many IT departments might warm up to this idea if it meant that either lower Windows/Office licensing fees or a new, albeit modest, revenue stream?
Yes, I know this would be a radical departure from Microsoft's current product licensing model. And yes, I realize many (most?) people and companies might not want to try it. But why not offer it as an option?
Look at it this way: If Office and Windows didn't already exist and they were both about to be launched this week, don't you think they'd include some sort of advertising component? We're just so used to having them be ad-free that we can't imagine what they would be like with banners or skyscrapers.
This would work for both display and search advertising. In fact, why isn't there already the Microsoft equivalent to Google's browser search bar built into every Office application? The results could appear in a drop-down window pane that would roll back up when you're finished, not interfering with the rest of the screen where you're reading e-mail, working on a spreadsheet, etc.
Think about it. If you're like me you spend more time in the various Office apps than you do in your web browser. Microsoft, why not make it a feature that customers can opt in or out of? Think about the unique angle this would give all your advertising sales reps!
P.S. -- I'm part of the majority of users who default to Google searches throughout the day. If Microsoft ever hopes to win us over to their search engine they'll need to do something bold like this. Otherwise, why switch?