"Am I late to the free (cash) giveaway?"

Microsoft is the world leader in the operating system world.  Its Xbox 360 console is a strong second worldwide, with excellent hardware sales.  The company is even salvaging its reputation with clever new ads.

The one eyesore for Microsoft is its floundering online efforts.  While Microsoft dreams of one day rivaling Google in the search engine market, it is unable to even catch up to veteran platform Yahoo, which itself is a distant second to Google.  This sad state comes despite massive spending on its online divisions.

In yet another attempt to try to gain some sort of internet search traction, Microsoft is returning to a familiar theme -- spending more money -- but this time it’s giving money to customers.  DailyTech covered the early days of these promotions, which were expected to go as quickly as they came.

However Microsoft continues to expand on its cash for search programs.  Its latest edition is the Search Perks incentive, which joins Live Search Club, Search and Give, and Live Search Cashback promotions in recent months.  Microsoft is getting a little trickier with its latest effort -- you not only have to use Microsoft's Live Search, but you also have to use its Internet Explorer Browser which is bad news for Firefox stalwarts.

To join the promotion, users must download a small program.  You can't download the program or view the true SearchPerks site from Firefox or Opera browsers.  Once you get the program, it tracks your searching and gives you one ticket per search query.  You can earn up to 25 tickets a day.  In April, users can cash in the tickets for prizes or to give money to charity.  Microsoft has not announced the prizes yet, but one of them might start with "V" and end with "ta" according to rumors.

Microsoft claims that it may consider opening its doors to Firefox users, but that it simply believes there is not currently "enough user interest" from Firefox users in the promotion.  The announcement from Microsoft reads, "At this time, SearchPerks is a limited promotion, though we remain open to expending availability of the promotion to different browsers and operating systems based on consumer interest."

It’s unclear whether Microsoft's latest attempt to persuade users to try its search engine will fare better than the last.  After the CashBack promotion, market share briefly jumped, but overall has fallen back even lower than before.  Microsoft now holds a mere 8.3 percent of the market behind Yahoo's 19.6 percent and Google's 63 percent.

Some analysts have even compared Microsoft's cash for search efforts to a certain infamous ill-fated internet company's free giveaways of floppy disks and later CDs.

Live Search Senior Director Frederick Savoye says that the effort is just part of Microsoft's online initiatives, which also include making the search better and making it easier to use.  Even he admits that the cash back programs haven't seen much success, though.  He states, "We haven't seen (our market share) move significantly yet.  We know we have some challenges with the brand and perception.  Simple awareness is still a challenge for us."

The new program is available until the end of the year or until 250,000 people sign up.  Microsoft has stated that it may consider extending the program past April.  Mr. Savoye is confident, in the end, money will reprogram users.  He says optimistically, "Over the long-term these programs have changed people's behavior."

"I modded down, down, down, and the flames went higher." -- Sven Olsen

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