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Boo Hoo for Yahoo

04-Feb-08 10:51 pm EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

The other big race that us geeks are following these days is the choice for who will take on the mantle of the world’s leading Internet advertising provider.  And boy did it take next to no time for consolidation of this market!  The Internet is barely 10 years old, and if Yahoo bails, selling out either to the world’s largest software company – Microsoft – or the world’s largest Internet search engine – Google – there’ll only be two companies left to virtually monopolize online advertising.  And who’s it gonna be?

It seems likely that Yahoo will ultimately take the Microsoft deal, although the bid may have to go up marginally to clinch the deal.  The prevailing view in the street is that there just aren’t any other bidders with the kind of capital necessary to top the Microsoft offer, and if Google were to try it would likely face being slapped with an antitrust action.  Additionally, Microsoft seems determined, having upped its bid from a similar one about a year ago.  Back then, Yahoo was in no hurry to take the offer, but time’s have changed radically.  There’s a lot less competition in the market now and Yahoo shareholders might find that the price per share will go down on subsequent offers from Microsoft or other suitors if it spurns the software giant this time.

Strategically, Microsoft needs the deal or another like it to stay in the game with Google.  It’s at risk of losing the ability to compete with Google at all in the Internet advertising space and Google continues to threaten to enter into service areas traditionally held exclusively by Microsoft.  These include the operating system and even office productivity spaces, although Google’s lone offering of online versions of office productivity software have yet to pose any serious threat to Microsoft’s Office product line.  But Google hasn’t slowed down development of new products and is rumoured to be continuing development of applications with a deliberate aim at taking users off the desktop and putting them on the Web in order to turn software from packaged merchandise to for-fee service.  What would a Google OS look like and how would it compete with Microsoft’s Windows?  Although hard to predict outright, there is considerable research being spent on creating a product that could revolutionize the operating system; something that would be a departure from the approach Microsoft has taken with the traditional OS – by just adding more "stuff" into what’s already been there for years.  Even Slate magazine, owned and operated by Microsoft, acknowledges this threat from "the cloud OS".

Whatever else you may read – and wherever you may read it – there will be a diversity of opinion (far too often religiously based more than in any fact or rational analyses) as to who will ultimately prevail in this contest for Internet dominance.  For some reason(s), Microsoft has perpetually held the image as the ‘bad guy’ of the net.  Somehow, conjecture about how it ended up being sued in one antitrust litigation after another at a time when its competitors, unable to prevail in the marketplace, decided to take a stab at winning in court only stained the company’s image with many on the Net.  Although one has to admit that, for the most part, industry professionals have nothing but respect and even admiration for the company’s performance over the years.  Even so, the views of those who track and write about the tech industry and Microsoft, in particular, tend to be as polarized as the readership.  But the objective onlooker must concede there’s just no way to know.

Microsoft’s biggest challenge will be its own success – it’s size and largely decentralized organization can make it difficult to harness the talent at its disposal efficiently, and this means it’s relatively slow to respond to changes and trends in the market (although make no mistake, it watches the market very closely).  Google, on the other hand, is younger, but suffers from organizational challenges of its own related to it growing ‘too big, too fast’.  On balance, Google is probably weaker methodologically and while great ideas certainly get turned into innovative products, its dual focus as both a marketing services company and a software company could mean there’s a split focus internally.  Although it has undertaken many new initiatives, the phenomenon of "big names at Google" as there are at Microsoft has yet to occur.  Does Google even have divisions?

The final chapter has yet to be written, but there’s drama to come, I’m sure.  And as one whose career is tightly linked to the success of one of the two companies discussed in this article, you can be sure I’ll be watching and, sometimes, even blogging about it.

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