Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Microsoft's Project Granola–Facebook Tastier Than Yahoo?

granola

Project Granola?

Apparently, that’s the jokey nickname that’s been given by some in the company to Microsoft’s (MSFT) new online strategy, in the wake of its failed efforts to acquire Yahoo (YHOO) that ended in a big heap of mess this past weekend.

Now, sources tell BoomTown, it is all about “organic”–hence the image of a healthy handful of granola (except for the fact that, in my experience, nobody really likes granola after eating it as much as they think will before).

In any case, it is a word Microsoft folks have been slipping into the conversations with BoomTown over the past few days, so much so that I have started to feel like I was talking to execs from Whole Foods.

Now Microsoft’s greenness has gone public.

Case in point: Brian Hall, Windows Live General Manager, who trotted out the organic word in front of Merrill Lynch analysts yesterday, as reported by CNET’s Ina Fried, saying: “We’ve withdrawn the offer and moved on, and now are focused on how we grow as fast as possible organically.”

But what does organic mean exactly?

Two things, it seems.

First, stepping up spending on marketing, technology and research to try to find ways to differentiate from Google (GOOG) and get into the No. 2 spot now held by Yahoo.

Of course, that plan has not worked out so well as yet for the software giant, with Microsoft spending billions of dollars with no profits and little gain in online search or ad market share, while its archrival Google keeps growing stronger.

Even so, while in Korea today, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates backed Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s do-it-yourself path and his move to walk away from Yahoo.

“The key decisions on that will be made by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who took a look at Yahoo and decided that, on our own, he likes the stuff that we’re doing,” said Gates.

Gates also added what amounts to the second option for Microsoft. “I wouldn’t rule out some partnerships, but we don’t have anything imminent there,” he said.

While a return to Yahoo is a possibility, in fact, buying up Web 2.0 stars is likely to be a bigger focus of the company.

“Yahoo can twist,” said one source. “Microsoft has lots and lots of other options.”

According to sources close to the company, for example, Microsoft’s bankers had been putting out subtle signals to Facebook to see if it would be open to a full buyout.

Microsoft already invested $240 million in the hot social-networking site, an investment that gave Facebook its kooky $15 billion valuation.

And its execs have long told Facebook execs they wouldn’t mind a bigger bite–um, like all of it.

“We just wanted to gauge their interest, more than any real effort,” said another source, who expects Facebook to stick to its longish path to an eventual IPO.

But, as is no secret, Microsoft has selections all over Silicon Valley to help it improve its Internet chances.

Those would include buying bigger vertical sites in strong categories like autos or jobs or finance, and also scooping up smaller but fast-growing socially oriented sites like Digg, Meebo, Yelp or focusing on ad plays like Spot Runner (which just got another big dollop of funding).

There might even be some sense in spinning some of these and all Microsoft Web units off into a separate Internet company, which would be another way of integrating even bigger deals for properties like Time Warner’s (TWX) AOL or News Corp.’s (NWS) MySpace (which are longer shots, I think).

In a post I did in February right after Yahoo rebuffed Microsoft for the first time, I suggested such a course for the company.

As I wrote:

Here’s a list: LinkedIn. Digg. Flixster. Slide or RockYou. Veoh. WordPress. Sphere. Sugar. Some international stuff. And more.

Then, some noted, Microsoft would have to give massive financial incentives to those entrepreneurs to stay and thrive. Most importantly, it would have to keep its Redmond hands from interfering.

Now that would send shivers up the spine of Larry and Sergey.”

And that, most of all, would be more like icing on the cake for Microsoft and be much more tasty than a bowl full of granola.

And, as Martha Stewart says: It’s a good thing.

icingcake


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