Microsoft Takes on Everybody, Google Buys Sparkbuy, More Fuel for the Talent Wars, & More in the Seattle-Area Tech Roundup

After maturing into a steady software company with a mammoth organizational chart, Microsoft is the source of plenty of eye-rolling in the world of tech upstarts—hometown fans included. But every so often, you see a glimpse of what the Redmond, WA-based tech titan could do if its energy was directed just right.

We’ve certainly seen that kind of promise with Microsoft’s big acquisition of Skype, and at the Microsoft NERD center in Cambridge, MA, folks were treated to a fascinating look at the future from Qi Lu, the company’s head of online services. As Xconomy’s Greg Huang details in this report, Lu’s talk touched on several areas—deals, social, mobile—where Microsoft wants to dominate. Also check out the transcript of our exclusive interview with Lu.

The rest of the past week’s tech news:

—Back out west, Microsoft scored a little coup right in Google’s back yard by landing a multimillion-dollar contract to handle cloud e-mail services for San Francisco’s city and county government. It’s not a big moneymaker for someone the size of Microsoft, but getting the city hall crowd in America’s tech capital to pick your service over the hometown offering is a big PR win.

Google came north to do a little shopping, acquiring consumer electronics shopping startup Sparkbuy for undisclosed terms. Sparkbuy had barely taken the covers off its service, which used online travel-inspired customization tools to help shoppers find laptops and TVs—making this look pretty clearly like a talent acquisition. The Sparkbuy team will be joining Google’s Kirkland, WA office.

—Speaking of talent, we had two more entrants in what might be this year’s overarching story in tech: The lack of qualified hires to fuel growth. I’ve covered this story a few times already with reports on the overall job climate and individual California companies making aggressive hiring moves, but there’s more ground to cover. In this week’s roundup, we have a sharp analysis from guest columnist Ed Lazowska and a study from job-search site Dice, which took a national look at which states have big shortages of tech talent.

Xconomy had another great event here in Seattle, bringing together leaders in the cleantech sector to talk about the future of alternative fuels in the U.S. The speakers on our main panel all have deep experience in the science and business of trying to disrupt oil’s dominance as the world’s primary fuel, and sparked some really interesting conversations. Also—a photo gallery!

Clearwire (NASDAQ:CLWR) took another step away from its original business plan, handing over management of its 4G wireless network to Ericsson—the company that also manages the network of Sprint (NASDAQ:S), Clearwire’s majority shareholder. There’s been an enormous amount of change at the Kirkland, WA-based company in just the past six months or so. It’ll be really interesting to see what interim CEO John Stanton and crew have in store for the rest of 2011.

Zaarly is technically based in San Francisco, but has strong Seattle connections: co-founder Eric Koester is based here. So naturally, Zaarly picked Seattle as one of the original cities for the crowd-buying service’s kickoff.

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