By Michael Rau
February 11, 2008
Here's a big surprise: This week I want to talk about Microsoft's announcement of its plan to try and acquire Yahoo.
Wow. Talk about your vicious circle. It wasn't six months ago I was voicing concern about Google's purchase of online ad giant DoubleClick. I really don't care about online advertising, although I do recognize it as being necessary. But at some level, even the reduction in competition between advertising providers will negatively affect you the consumer.
Now Microsoft the absolute master of monopolization is claiming that it needs to acquire Yahoo in order to stay competitive with Google. And good ol' Steve Ballmer, the architect of Microsoft's relentless scorched-earth campaign against any and all competition, has made it excessively clear he won't take no for an answer and is completely ready to execute a hostile takeover.
I haven't been a fan of Yahoo for a long time. Its lack of any conscience in regard to human and civil rights has in many ways set it apart as being an exemplary demonstrator of the worst characteristics of profiteers. But that doesn't mean I want to see it swallowed up by Microsoft.
Look. I don't like to see any big acquisition like this one. I simply believe that any elimination of competition reduces choice, and we all know I'm all about choice. I don't use MSN or Yahoo, but many of you probably do. One of them is going to disappear. Those of you who use the one that goes away are just out of luck.
But unlike almost any other company out there, anytime Microsoft acquires or crushes a competitor, the net result is a suppression of technology. Microsoft has never lost its vision of global domination of the wired world and if that means it has to spend money to buy a company with a superior product, solely to get it out of contention, so be it.
Fortunately, many people much more influential than me share my beliefs and have held the line. These include such large efforts as Mozilla and Open Office, as well as the myriad software artists and engineers creating applications under the General Public License (GPL) and other open-source schemes.
The only reason these efforts have survived the MS onslaught is that they were never for sale. The participants in the open-source movement are, to me, heroes. The fact that these are open, cooperative, collaborative efforts must drive the boys in Redmond absolutely crazy. Ya gotta love it.
Anytime Microsoft tries to compete on a level playing field, it loses.
That's why its always trying to tilt it. The reason is because of the aforementioned global strategy. It has actually made some products that could have been great were it not for the overarching need to dominate.
A great example of this is Windows Media. Microsoft had intended it to be the dominant format for digital media, both online and in digital production.
The encoding and compression algorithms utilized by Windows Media are superior equations.
The quality of Windows Media is excellent. But from the very beginning, it was tied in so tightly to Internet Explorer and ActiveX controls that it doesn't work and play as well with non-MS products as with its own.
Microsoft managed to achieve major market penetration with Windows Media, but finally, three or four years ago, multimedia producers like me got tired of the product's lack of flexibility. We abandoned it in droves and now Flash utterly dominates online streaming video.
The reason is simple: The quality is as good or better than Windows Media, and it plays on any platform in any browser without so much as a hiccup.
If Microsoft had just taken such an open approach with Windows Media, I have little doubt it would absolutely dominate the market. Instead, Microsoft's uber-secretive and somewhat incestuous approach has caused Windows Media to descend rapidly into irrelevance in terms of digital media, with Flash dominating streaming media, QuickTime being the de facto master format for digital video production, and AAC or mp3 the preferred choices for digital audio.
After all these years, you'd think that Microsoft might re-evaluate its approach. After all, virtually all the company's weaknesses stem from its closed Nixonian culture.
Vista, with its numerous bugs and flaws, still hasn't caught on (one company I'm aware of replaced 50 computers in January, and refused to load them with Vista, opting for XP Pro instead). Internet Explorer is bleeding market share to Firefox.
Office is in a race against Open Office. And as mentioned, the market for Windows Media is collapsing.
Acquiring Yahoo won't add anything to Microsoft technologically.
It'll simply increase Microsoft's market share in searches and advertising by eliminating someone else's (if you can't beat 'em, buy 'em).
I wonder if, in my lifetime, I'll ever see Microsoft try to compete simply by building a better product.
After all these years, I ain't holding my breath.
Michael Rau is a mass-communications consultant in Virginia Beach. To send feedback or view past columns, go to http://dailypress.asoundidea.com.
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