Setting the (search) stage this week: New name, new version, new partnership?

This is a big week or so for Microsoft, and for Live Search.  According to reports from the Wall St. Journal, the widely anticipated new version of Live Search, code named Kumo, is set to be unveiled at D: The All Things Digital conference in Carslbad, California.  And shortly after that, Dr. Qi Lu, Microsoft’s President of the Online Services Division (which includes Live Search), is slated to keynote at SMX Advanced.  According to a countdown clock spotted by an alert Neowin reader while on Microsoft’s campus which lines up with the timing of the keynote, we’ve speculated that Kumo may be available for the first time in its entirety at that time.

Of course speculation has been rampant about what the new name for Live Search will be.  As early as last May, then Platform and Services Division President Kevin Johnson (who has left the company after it failed to acquire Yahoo! in a highly publicized attempt last year), approached the idea of a rebranding effort.  Mary Jo Foley, of course, came up with the goods early on, calling out Bing, or Hook, or Kumo as possible new names.  We followed the trail, and Kumo emerged as the code name of choice, with a rollout internally across the company.

But we’d been hearing rumblings for some time that Kumo would not be the final name, and now there’s rampant speculation that Bing will win out.  Truthfully, we can’t wait to get past the speculation and get on with the $100 million worth of advertising that’s coming to promote the new brand, whatever it is.

And in what would surely be a topper for a momentous week for Live Search, Andrea James at the Seattle PI is reporting that there’s a possibility that a new Microsoft partnership is in the works (can you say Yahoo!?).  Apparently aside from raising some $3.75 billion in cash, Microsoft has applied for an LLC, which can be a pre-cursor to announcing a partnership:

"A new search engine, a new ad campaign, and perhaps, a new online partnership could make this a week to remember for Microsoft shareholders," Jefferies analyst Katherine Egbert wrote Tuesday in a research note.

This latest report by Egbert suggests that Microsoft could be announcing more than a new search engine:

It’s also possible that Microsoft could debut a partnership or make an acquisition of some type that will bolster its online search presence. The software giant registered an LLC Corp. in Delaware last week, a move often made in advance of acquisitions or joint ventures. The registration gave rise to widespread speculation that Microsoft would
acquire Citrix since the name of the LLC is somewhat similar to Microsoft’s code name for Citrix.

While that’s possible, the timing of the registration and recent debt raise indicate that it might be more likely Microsoft uses the LLC to form a partnership that will boost the amount of traffic flowing through its search engine, perhaps through a partnership with Yahoo! or others. It would make sense that Microsoft would want to address both the passive and active search markets simultaneously, to maximize the potential return on their $80-100mm investment. Passive searches are performed via search toolbars embedded on popular sites, such as Yahoo’s homepage or MSN, while active searches come via a user typing the search provider’s URL into a browser e.g.

The recent debt raise that Egbert refers to is Microsoft’s $3.75 billion bond issue made earlier this month.

We’ll be watching D: as closely as we can, and will be at SMX Advanced next week.  Looks like we’ll finally be able to get a look at, and our hands on, Live Search v.Next.  And a search deal too?  Can’t wait!