Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Microsoft + Yahoo = no problem?

One of the big items in the news the past week or so has been Microsoft tendering a bid to purchase Yahoo. The offer has generated multiple opinion, analytic articles, and various joke stories about what to name the merged company. I'll get the last one out of the way first. I'm in favor of naming the company Bloathoo.

Couple of reasons for suggesting that name which also cover why I'm not too terribly concerned about an acquisition by Microsoft. The first is that Yahoo employees are not exactly too thrilled with the offer, with many suggesting that the fun might be over. The second is that Yahoo has lost out to Google for several technical reasons.

When I repair or service a computer one of my first steps is to remove the Yahoo toolbar, the Yahoo Instant Messenger, and most of the other Yahoo software. While I doubt I could ever classify the Yahoo software as intentional malware, it does have some functions and features that do resemble existing spyware applications. Yahoo software also tends to be very heavy on system resources. I've never done a technical comparison of Yahoo messenger versus Pidgin/Gaim on identical Windows platforms, but with the messenger alone, in my experience the Yahoo client chews up memory and processing time. Supposing that the two actually were equal right now, the difference really would not matter to me. Pidgin/Gaim has includes much more operational functionality than the Yahoo client.

On top of that, I am a little biased because Yahoo declined to stop developing their Linux Client. One of the major reasons Pidgin/Gaim took off is that it ran on Linux. Ergo if you want to access your Yahoo messenger service, you needed to use Gaim in the past. Yes, there are other competent multi-chat clients out there right now. Kopete for one. Yet for years, Gaim and Trillian were it, and Trillian's free version wasn't really in the same feature class as Gaim, and Trillian had/has no Linux client.

The Yahoo toolbar went because it was just bloody annoying. If you want to search with Yahoo, it's just a simple click on one button under FireFox and Opera. No additional software is needed. Okay, Konqueror is a bit of pain since Yahoo is not in the default search options, but you can add Yahoo there too if you really wanted. If your using Internet Explorer? Don't.

For me, everytime I ran across Yahoo software, or tried it, I kept getting the feeling that the computer was being hijacked. Everything was Yahoo-fied and it annoys the living daylights out of me.

Granted, I'm not one for toolbars to begin with. I don't even bother with the Google Toolbar. However, I generally leave the Google toolbar alone if it's installed on a computer because I don't see any other bloatware getting installed alongside of it.

So, not a big fan of Yahoo's downloadable software, and I can't say I'm a real big fan of their online site either. Take a look at some of the site comparisons out there, such as this one from which gives a run down of each page. For a better visual history Search Engine Journal did Yahoo while Blogoscope did Google.

The Yahoo site is a bloody mess. There are columns going everywhere, massive ads right when you open the front page, and from 10 feet away you might not even know what your looking at.

Google on the other hand has barely changed. From ten feet away you know somebody is searching with Google. In fact, Google's biggest problem is telling people about the software they offer because the front page rarely changes. Summer of code? Open Source support? Well, if you do not know know about it, good luck finding it on Google's normal home page without using search.

Then there are the email systems. I have a yahoo account. Want to see what happened when I opened up my Yahoo mail while writing this?

Yes. That is a pop up. You might also note that I wasn't actually taken to my inbox. I was taken to some sort of news feed. Sorry, I actually use my Gmail accounts so I'm not snapping a picture there of the login and first screen.

For me then Yahoo has lost to Google because Yahoo just doesn't get it. Sure, Google may not be all that innocent in some of their business dealings, with China coming to mind, but that sort of misses the point.

Yahoo's software is too complex, too heavy, too busy for an average user. Google software has tended to be pretty simple, if not extremely basic. Gmail is only now offering the sort of integration that I would get in a stand alone email client. It's not going to replace Thunderbird, I like having an archive of my messages on my own machines and storage medium, but Gmail isn't difficult or annoying to use.

From a perspective of usability and functionality then, I think Yahoo shares a lot in common with Microsoft. I'd be hard pressed to call Vista an easy to use operating system. There are some aspects of it I like, such as the integration of the Windows Update into the control panel itself. While the process of updating by accessing IE hasn't changed, the presentation has, and the presentation makes more logical sense. Yet for that step forward, Vista took flying leaps backwards in almost every other User Interface aspect. The new control panel makes no sense at all, and that Personalize link controlling the display resolution?

Yahoo in the same way has had tiny steps forward in technical integration of software. Each tiny step forward is just completely undone by everything else.

Yahoo and Microsoft then might actually have more in common than the Yahoo employees might want to believe. What will happen to internet search in the meantime?

Absolutely nothing.

Google has become King of Random search because they simply offer a good product. Google results tend to be more accurate than competitors. Google has aggressively pursued elimination of Google bombs, specific link chains set up to hijack a particular search result.

Yahoo? Well, their search is good, and it's certainly better than anything Microsoft has put forward... but it isn't brilliant. It's not as accurate as Google search, and Yahoo does not have a reputation for shutting down users who abuse the search systems.

For Google then, there is little worry of Yahoo and Microsoft actually composing a valid threat.

The threat to Google will come in non-random search. I'm talking about stuff like Technorati and Beagle. Non-random searches are when people are after a certain subject from a certain source. Sure, Google is wonderful if you want to crawl the internet for a specific subject. What if you just want to find a file on your hard-drive? What if you want to search with an engine that is Open-Licensed?

See the point? Yahoo and Microsoft merging wouldn't change anything that is already occurring. The Status quo would remain the same.

Microsoft would need to undercut the community goodwill Google has generated. Ergo, Microsoft would need to release the Yahoo search engine under an Open-License.

Microsoft would need to counter the simplicity of Google's design. Ergo, Microsoft would need to clean up Yahoo's interface, redesign the UI from the ground up, remove the ads, columns, and everything else, and default the mailbox to actually going to the inbox.

Forgive me if I sound rude when I say this, but I'm pretty sure I have a better chance of getting sent a fat paycheck by Intel for "promotion of retail products" than Microsoft actually doing what is required to compete against Google in the random-search market.
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