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To Build or Buy? A Look at Microsoft's Decisions on Popular Apps
Posted November 7, 2016
To Build or Buy? A Look at Microsoft's Decisions on Popular Apps
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By Matt Day. Updated November 7, 2016 9:24AM

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To build or buy? Microsoft has faced that choice with each new fad in software, from spreadsheets to search engines. The Redmond company has 37,000 employees who work in research and development. It's also sitting on $137 billion in cash and short-term investments, at last count.

As Microsoft Chief Executive Satya Nadella [pictured above] has put it, that kind of firepower means Microsoft can go after virtually any market it wants to.

In the realm of chat-based workplace collaboration led by highflying startup Slack, Microsoft decided to build, introducing Microsoft Teams, a would-be Slack killer.

Here are some of Microsoft's decisions in other popular applications:

Chat: Microsoft-built MSN Messenger went head to head against AOL during that company's heyday. With the advent of voice and video chat, Microsoft went shopping, scooping up Skype for $8.5 billion. The jury is still out on the impact of that deal.

Some within Microsoft reportedly pushed for the company to buy Slack, too, but the company ultimately decided to spend 18 months building a competitor in the form of Microsoft Teams.

Office: When it comes to major applications, Microsoft has often opted to build its own, rolling out note-taking app OneNote, business analytics tool PowerBI, and presentation and web-publishing tool Sway.

But when it comes to single-feature tools, particularly on mobile devices, Microsoft has leaned toward acquisitions, buying the startups behind Acompli, Sunrise, Wunderlist and SwiftKey in the past few years.

Search: Microsoft's effort to compete with Google in search initially relied on technology borrowed from other companies, and an effort to buy Yahoo.

Eventually, Microsoft went all-in on building its own search engine. That path ultimately took years longer, and cost billions of dollars more, than Microsoft had anticipated.

In the time it took the company to work out the kinks in the technology that became Bing, Google was a household name. Bing, thanks in part to a deal to provide search results to Yahoo, has a foothold among desktop users in the U.S. but remains a minor player in a Google-dominated global market.

Social networking: Microsoft was among the suitors who tried to buy Facebook, offering $24 billion when the company was "itsy bitsy," in the words of former Chief Executive Steve Ballmer. Mark Zuckerberg said no.

Instead, Microsoft bought Yammer, a corporate-focused social network, for $1.2 billion. Yammer still exists as a bundle with Office tools but isn't widely known outside of technology circles.

Microsoft is taking another stab at buying its way into business social networking with its pending $26.2 billion deal to acquire LinkedIn.

© 2017 Seattle Times syndicated under contract with NewsEdge/Acquire Media. All rights reserved.

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