Saturday, February 02, 2008

Turkeys, roosting

Microsoft $44.6bn bid for Yahoo

The only real shock about it is how much they're paying, but then again share prices are all about perception rather than genuine value. As Keynes put it, it's like a beauty contest in which you're voting not for the most beautiful entrant but the one the other judges are most likely to pick. It should make the share price of the combined company soar, at least in the short term.

The reality is that neither company are great performers in the internet world. Microsoft have long been playing catch-up... and failing, whereas Yahoo seem stuck in the late 1990's.

Yahoo were simply eclipsed by Google with its attitude of providing web users with free, relevant search, putting providing a service first. The relevance point is critical, before, with any of the search engines, query on, say, "Pizza in Coventry" and your first 20 results would most likely be 10 "me-too" porn sites, 7 dismal American rock bands, 2 obscure academic papers and 1 actual pizza parlour, and even then probably in Coventry, Connecticut rather than Coventry, UK. Yahoo do have a structured directory too, which is excellent, but there's a better one at the Open Directory.

Microsoft seem to have always been playing catch-up, after all, Windows hit the market long after the Mac OS and only with XP did it start to come close in terms of ease of use. Their business strategy however, could scarcely be faulted (as being the world's wealthiest company attests), lock-in consumers and regularly produce ever more bloated products. Perhaps the wheels are starting to come off with Vista though, like many techies, I will never use it. Apart from it requiring a pretty hunky machine to be able to run its eye-candy, I'm not going to have an OS on board that has a DRM layer at base, slowing everything down. If the big US copyright holders want me to run it, and that's who it's for, they can buy the PC for me.

For all its marketplace dominance, Microsoft have rarely been innovators, the only truly original product of theirs I can think of is ASP.

Which brings us back to this takeover deal, 2 huge businesses who've slid behind in the internet revolution, trying to cling to their position by a merger of muscle, altogether reminiscent of that other gigantic deal, the Time-Warner takeover of AOL.

Some are touting it as the emergence of a serious competitor to Google, but I doubt it. I hope a competitor does arise, but it's far more likely to come from another audacious start-up as they once were.

It's not only technology and business, it's about being part of the whole culture of the net.


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