At last we may be seeing some serious competition for Google.

Yesterday, Microsoft unveiled its latest attempt to start clawing back market share from the seemingly unbeatable Google. This time it’s a new search engine, and this time Microsoft seems to think it has found something special.

“Today, search engines do a decent job of helping people navigate the web and find information,” said Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer magnanimously. But he added: “they don’t do a very good job of enabling people to use the information they find.”

The answer, Microsoft hopes, is that in the future we won’t Google things, we will Bing them instead. For Bing is the name of its new product.

It seems Bing’s big advantage is that supposedly it learns as it goes. So after a while, it works out what kind of information you are really after, and delivers the results accordingly.

“When we set out to build Bing, we grounded ourselves in a deep understanding of how people really want to use the web,” said Ballmer.

In the US, Google has 64.2 per cent of all search engine enquiries, Yahoo is in second place, and Microsoft a lowly third. In the UK, Google’s share is much higher. Do you know anyone who doesn’t use Google?

So why the name Bing? Well, it appears it has nothing to do with dreaming of white Christmases. Instead, Ballmer said: “The name is short, it’s easy to say, it works globally. It’s been proved that being able to ‘verb up’ can be helpful.”

Not all are convinced. The Times quoted Andy Mihalop of the i-level online media agency, who said: “It’s going to be very difficult for them to break the Google habit, because Google is such a familiar brand.” But then again, if Google has shown us anything, it is that in the Internet world, a brand’s monopoly can be broken quite quickly.

Poor old Yahoo. Ballmer still talked about working closely with the company, and recently, Yahoo Chief Executive Carol Bartz said talks between the two companies had continued “a little bit”.

But it seems Microsoft has gone cold on the idea of merging with Yahoo. The smaller company may have missed its big chance last year when a handsome offer was on the table.

It does seem that in the Internet world, barriers to entry are incredibly low. New technologies can catapult companies to the forefront in no time.

But this new Microsoft idea is not like that. This was a deliberate in-house attempt to create something that can take on Google. Moving forward, this is Microsoft’s weakness.

Microsoft relies on its in-house expertise or in buying companies once they have a proven product. But the competition is almost anarchic. There’s Linux with its legions of programmers working for little more than the thrill of being a part of something bigger.

The likes of MySpace, Facebook and Twitter have shown how new businesses can come from nowhere, and very soon command a price which even the likes of Microsoft baulk at paying.

Nothing lasts for ever. At the beginning of the last century, the economist Alfred Marshall drew up a list of the top 100 companies. So large and powerful were the companies on Marshall’s list, he argued that they would probably survive indefinitely. He referred to them as the Californian Redwoods – trees that can live for so long that to us humans, with our short lifespan, they practically appear immortal. Redwoods have in fact been known to live for over 2,000 years.

But in 1999, the economist Richard L Hannah revisited the Marshall list, and discovered that of the 100 largest firms in 1912, 29 had, by the time of the study, gone bankrupt; 48 had disappeared; and just 19 of them were still in the US top 100.

Presumably the credit crunch has seen more victims, and Marshall’s Redwoods have diminished even further.

The Internet will surely accelerate the inevitability of this destruction, and Microsoft is being forced to fight a rearguard action. How it fares over the next few years will be truly fascinating.

© Investment & Business News 2013