A sign of desperation

· by Steve · Read in about 3 min · (434 Words)

Am I the only one who thinks that Microsoft’s $44.6bn bid for Yahoo is primarily a long overdue admission of failure on Microsoft’s part? Google has been caning their ass online for years, both in terms of concrete market share and grass-roots popularity. Everybody loves Google - after all, what’s not to love? They give you great online tools for free, they sponsor open source projects by providing good hosting and running the Summer of Code, they’ve contributed to a ton of open, cross-platform APIs. And oh yeah, they have an ad syndication and search engine system that’s pretty sweet too.

Monkey-boy Ballmer is quoted as saying that the purchase will allow the two to offer an “increasingly exciting set of solutions for consumers, publishers and advertisers”, and enable them to be “better positioned to compete in the online market”. In other words, Windows Live has failed, as most people expected it to because it’s just an uninspiring rip-off of what other online providers already did. It lacked momentum from day 1, screaming ‘me too, me too!’ in the very best tradition of the Gates ‘the Internet isn’t important - oh wait…’ U-turn ten years ago. So their only option is to try to buy their way in.

Microsoft isn’t primarily an innovator, and never has been - with a few exceptions (like the early versions of Office, which I think won fair and square) it’s a commoditiser - take a bunch of someone else’s ideas, and make them mass-market. There’s nothing inherently wrong with being inspired by the work of others and improving it / representing it better - in fact I’m a strong believer in incremental development (hence why I’m against software patents). However the problem is that Microsoft have a habit of relying on their existing market penetration and bundling to propel relatively poor ‘version 1’ offerings through to mass market acceptance, where they might just get good enough by version 2 or 3 to equal what the independent offerings were doing (which of course are likely to have been marginalised by then by the sheer weight of MS’s distribution). Of course, bundling just doesn’t work that well online, where consumers are more agile in their allegiances, and in addition, what vested interests there are, are with other companies already. Ironically Microsoft is getting something of a taste of it’s own medicine, although in the online space as a non-incumbent they’ve got far more chance than a typical independent software developer has going up against them in the desktop space. Having 44 billion to throw at the problem helps too 😉