Sure, they’ve stumbled, made bad bets, goofed up, etc. etc. But by and large Microsoft, if given enough time, is a winner at most everything it sets its collective efforts towards. So when I look at the prospects for Microsoft buying Yahoo, I don’t think there’s a lot of precedent for believing the deal won’t get done.
That doesn’t mean I’m totally in love with the notion that buying Yahoo is a good idea for Microsoft. Nor do I buy the fact that Google poses the level of threat to Microsoft that many believe it does – the former, to be blunt, is just a new-fangled media company trying to capture a little more of the seven percent of advertising dollars that are spent on web advertising today. Boring.
Having spent the same twenty-plus years involved with the media business, I can assure you that being a leader in media, any media, is a dubious distinction at best.
On the other hand, Microsoft is, well, a company that has a habit of churning out interesting and, arguably, highly useful technology that is, at times, truly ahead of its time. (For the record, Vista is excluded from the previous statement, for reasons everyone should be aware of. But if you’ve looked at Sharepoint recently, you’ll know what I mean about interesting, useful, and even ahead of its time.)
Meanwhile, when I look at Google I see a search engine that is a mile wide and a millimeter deep, and some pretty cool technologies for pushing unwanted advertising at me in the form of bogus search results. They also do some really fun things – like taking pictures from their roving van and mashing them up to their free mapping service – and some stupid things, like pretending that their desktop productivity software can meet the corporate world’s requirements for security, reliability, and privacy. Add to this list their latest so-called Sharepoint-killer – Google Sites – which is garnering a lot of negative blog for its lack of usability and featurelessness.
But when I think of Microsoft and Yahoo coming together, I think of Google for the rest of us – those who don’t want free software that doesn’t meet our needs or search that isn’t very searchy. In fact, I have some faith that Microhoo could become Google 2.0, and thereby make some interesting shifts in the dynamics of the blending of consumer and business functionality on the Web come to fruition.
First and foremost, Microhoo could try to fix the fact that Google’s search technology is sooo last century, as in the Stone Age, that it’s almost funny to call it search. The lack of any semantic context at all is something that business users should have been hollering about for a long time, considering what the state of on-premise database search has been offering for decades.
In Google, context-based search largely consists of adding quotes to your search terms, which adds a soupcon of Boolean logic to an otherwise logic-free search environment. The fact that most users don’t know how to “trick” Google to do Boolean operations (believe me, I show people how to add quotes to search, and watch the lights go on every time) says a lot about how much Google has helped dumb-down search and users’ expectations of what kind of results they could possibly get.
Microhoo, working with some good RDBMS [Relational Database Management System] and OLAP [Online Analytical Processing] DNA from the Microsoft side, might stand a good chance of tackling this problem. At a minimum, they could elevate user thinking about what search is really all about and, in my opinion, run circles around Google in the process.
Microhoo could also fix the perception of mediocrity that is currently dogging office-productivity-in-the-cloud solutions, foremost among them Google’s offerings. Office, Sharepoint, Exchange Server, Biztalk and the like are real business applications and services that Microsoft is already hosting in the cloud.
Having them be available from Yahoo will help Microsoft get its cloud computing story out to the masses. Having real business software from Microsoft in the cloud should scare the bejeezus out of the kids at Google who are currently in over their heads trying to build out competitive offerings.
Finally, I think Microhoo could really drive the creation of an on-demand marketplace of services that would make Google shudder and Salesforce.com green with envy (and red as in red ink.)
Microsoft has an ISV and developer community that is unparalleled, and its plans for cloud computing are very much focused on unleashing those developers to build and deploy apps that can be in the cloud or on the desktop pretty much interchangeably. The idea that these developers could offer on demand versions of their applications in the cloud – with a pay-as-you-go model and no software downloads or IT cost needed – could open up a marketplace, running, of course, on Yahoo, that will redefine on-demand and cloud computing once and for all.
So as long as I stifle my disinterest in business models based on media and advertising, I see Microhoo as an opportunity to leapfrog Google. There’s a lot more to making that happen – including overcoming the institutional inertia that often dooms large mergers.
But by and large I think that if I were the gang at Google, I’d be worrying about what Microsoft could do with Yahoo to execute an end run around my dead-end search business and my dead-on-arrival office productivity business. And then I’d look at my quaintly quirky business ways and wonder what it will all mean three years from now, when Microhoo rises from the ashes of the current recession and starts making Google look like yesterday’s lunch. Sometimes being a wunderkind means you never actually get to grow up. Until it’s too late.