SAN FRANCISCO -- A noisy protest on behalf of Walmart workers briefly disrupted a talk by Yahoo (YHOO) CEO Marissa Mayer during a major tech industry conference Tuesday night, but Mayer remained unfazed as she spoke of her efforts to refocus Yahoo on the mobile tech trend.

The protesters were quickly escorted out of the auditorium at Moscone Center after interrupting Mayer's talk on stage with Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff. Mayer explained that she serves on Walmart's board of directors but said she wasn't at the event to talk about Walmart issues.

Labor activists have been dogging Mayer at public appearances for the last year, although they usually have remained outside public events, while seeking attention for the company's treatment of Walmart workers who say they were fired for protesting unsafe practices at the retail giant.

Mayer, however, quickly returned to the subject of Yahoo's turnaround effort, telling Benioff that she believes the popularity of mobile Internet devices is a major industry shift that Yahoo can ride to success. Rebuilding Yahoo's popular web services for mobile users "was an immediate priority" when she took the job as CEO last year, Mayer said.


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Yahoo has expanded its mobile development team from about 60 people to almost 400 software engineers on a team responsible for new mobile products, she added. That's a different approach from Facebook, which embarked on its own mobile shift last year by assigning mobile developers to each of the company's product teams instead of having one separate mobile group.

Yahoo's approach may not be perfect, Mayer said, but she noted that almost 400 million people now use Yahoo's mobile apps. "That's one of the things I'm most proud of," she added.

Mayer has been working to turn around Yahoo's struggling business since she was hired away from Google (GOOG) in July 2012. She's revamped many of the online company's consumer products, including its popular web-based email and news sites, while spending more than $1.3 billion to buy 20 startups in a campaign to acquire new talent and technology.

But despite some evidence that more people are using Yahoo services, the company reported last month that its online display advertising business is continuing to decline, at a time when the overall market for online ads is booming.

Yahoo's stock is doing well because investors are excited about the impending Wall Street debut of Alibaba, a Chinese eCommerce company in which Yahoo owns a major stake. But analysts have taken a cautious view of Yahoo's core business, which "still does not have a clear long-term growth story," according to a recent report by Carlos Kirjner of Bernstein Research.

Mayer's onstage chat with Benioff capped the second day of Salesforce.com's annual conference for clients and business partners. Organizers say 130,000 people registered to attend the event, known as Dreamforce.

Benioff has built the onetime cloud computing startup into a significant rival of such tech giants as Oracle (ORCL) and SAP. Salesforce is expected to book more than $4 billion in revenue this year from selling web-based programs that businesses use to manage sales and marketing efforts, although it disappointed some analysts by issuing lower-than-expected financial projections this week.

During the conference this week, Benioff announced a new partnership with Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) and showed off some new software tools for mobile devices.

Contact Brandon Bailey at 408-920-5022; follow him at Twitter.com/BrandonBailey