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Are Microsoft's search woes just branding issues?

That's the case the software maker puts forth in a Wall Street Journal item, but CNET News' Ina Fried wonders whether the issues go deeper than that.

Don't get me wrong, Microsoft clearly has a branding problem when it comes to search.

In a Wall Street Journal item posted Wednesday, online executive Yusuf Mehdi makes the case that its akin to the issue Pepsi faced with Coke some years back. In blind taste tests it scores far better than it does with the brand attached. But, at this point, I wonder if Microsoft's issues don't run deeper.

CNET News Poll

Redmond and search
Where does Microsoft stand in search?

It just has a brand problem. I've used Microsoft's Live Search, and it's just as good as Google.
It's a product issue. I've tried Live Search, and rival search engines are just better.
I don't use Microsoft's search engine.

View results

I agree with the notion put forth by Mehdi that Google has become synonymous with search and that has made life difficult for anyone trying to take on the behemoth. And, clearly Microsoft hasn't helped its case by pitching its search and online efforts under a host of different brand names.

But the software maker has been at the search game for years now. It has made the case in presentations as far back as I can remember that search can be "more than just 10 blue links." But search has changed only incrementally, something that benefits the incumbent.

It is not that search has stood still. In addition to generic search, Microsoft, Google, and others offer all kinds of vertical search engines for things like photos, health topics, and news. More recently, the search players, including both Microsoft and Google, have done a better job of integrating those results back into main results page.

But, to really take on Google, it is going to have to leapfrog its rival in some significant way. I would argue the barrier isn't an impossible one. Once upon a time we all used Yahoo. But the company's efforts to date, things like Live Search Cashback and others, haven't been significant enough to prompt massive switching.

The software maker is trying to solve its branding issues. Whether it is ultimately Kumo or another name, the company is working on a new name for its search efforts. I have no doubt that with a big ad campaign, it can make any name recognizable.

But to really stick, it will need a really breakthrough product. The question is, does it have one?