What do you get when you cross Microsoft and Yahoo?
Over at TechCrunch, Duncan Riley makes the case that people leery of the coming Microsoft/Yahoo merger are being unreasonable, and need to start thinking of Google, not Microsoft, as the Evil Empire.
The Microsoft is evil meme is alive and well this week as many digest Microsoft’s $44.6 billion takeover offer for Yahoo. There’s Flickr users protesting, talk of Yahoo teaming up with Google to block Microsoft’s bid, and general Microsoft is bad sentiment everywhere, even from Google itself. While Microsoft acquiring Yahoo may not provide the ultimate in happy endings to many, it’s really not as bad as some would have you believe.
My own objection is not so much because Microsoft is evil (and we’ll set aside for the moment whether Microsoft is evil). Rather, it’s over the fact that Microsoft is a desktop software company. Up to now, Yahoo has been a pure Internet company, like Google. They have not had any reason to care what platform its users run; they simply don’t have a horse in that race.
But a combined ‘MicroHoo’ has a vested interest in what software is running at the other end of the pipe. Even if the people running the ‘Yahoo Division’ say all the right things, there will always be a temptation for the Microsoft brass to use the Yahoo properties as instruments with which to promote Microsoft desktop software. That should be a concern for anyone who uses non-Microsoft alternatives to Microsoft products — not just Mac and Linux users, but users of Firefox and Opera, iTunes and Winamp.
Will you have to use IE to access del.icio.us or Yahoo Finanace? Will you have to use Windows Media Player to access Yahoo’s streaming media? Will you have to use Visual Studio to develop Yahoo plug-ins? Even if the answer to all of these questions is ‘No’ now, can anyone promise it will stay that way in the future? Even if Microsoft goes into debt with this deal, and has to justify its purchase to the stockholders, can we be sure that management won’t see this as a way to monetize their new properties?
And I don’t buy the parallel being drawn by some between Google’s domination of the net and Microsoft’s domination of the desktop. Microsoft gained its position by leveraging its relationship with IBM, and muscling PC vendors into exclusive deals, precluding them from offering pre-installed alternatives to Windows. Google, by contrast, is a textbook example of a natural monopoly, exactly the kind of company we should want to see more of: they built a better mousetrap, and the world beat a path to their door.
In practical terms, the only real stumbling block to this deal may be EU intervention, and even there, Microsoft can make a compelling case that the merger will increase rather than decrease competition, so I don’t see that as likely. So the deal is likely to go ahead. I just don’t see it as cause to celebrate.