WinInfo Short Takes: Week of June 16, 2008

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including the (final?) collapse of Microhoo, a Google/Yahoo search union, a new Celtics dynasty, Microsoft's struggling EIB, faster-than-expected PC sales in '08, Palm Centro and Verizon, and more...

WinInfo Blog

People toss around phrases like "biggest comeback in NBA Finals history" and "no team has ever won a Finals game after being down by more than 15 points after the first quarter," but let's be serious here ... Wow. After last night's stunning turnaround--the Celts erased a 24-point deficit to beat a stunned Lakers team in LA--my boys are up 3 to 1 heading into game 5 on Sunday. Life is grand.

Leo and I recorded a great (IMHO) episode of the Windows Weekly podcast on Thursday. We even did a bit of shoddy video, though you'd have to have been watching live on TWiT TV at the time to have seen it. As usual, the new episode should be available before the end of the weekend.

We're the unheralded half of the parental unit, the part that mostly cheers (or at least grunts) from the sidelines as our wives do all the work, but let's be honest here, just for a moment ... OK, maybe "celebrating mediocrity" isn't a Hallmark-quality message. But Happy Fathers Day, big guy. Even if you do mail it in most of the time.

Short Takes

Microsoft, Yahoo Talks Fall Apart ... Again
If this was the script of a daytime soap opera, it would be described as implausible and unrealistic, but Microsoft's on-again-off-again romance is off again and appears to be so for good. In a sudden turnaround last night, Yahoo announced that it has broken off talks with Microsoft after mulling over the software's giant's latest offering and determining it wasn't in its best interests. According to Yahoo, Microsoft offered to purchase Yahoo's search business and then buy a 16 percent stake in the remainder of Yahoo at $35 a share. Yahoo says it nixed the deal because it feels that its search business is crucial to the long-time success of the company. Which makes a lot of sense, until you read this...

Like a Scorned Lover, Yahoo Runs to the Arms of ... Google
Just hours after unceremoniously leaving Microsoft at the altar, Yahoo made a second announcement: It will outsource parts of its search business to market leader Google. Just so I'm clear on what's happening here: Yahoo says that search is critical its success, but then farms out this service to its chief rival? Predictably, shares in the company plummeted to the $23 range, approaching the previous low from right before Microsoft's original bid. This company is doomed, people. Doomed. (If this was a 3D horror movie, I'd wave something in your face right now, maybe a Netscape logo, to drive home this point.)

Just a Thought
During this year's Microsoft/Yahoo drama, the term "Microhoo" was often used to depict the imaginary combination of the two companies. Since that's not happening and Yahoo has decided instead to pursue a foolish deal with the industry's most dominant player, it got me thinking: What might a combination of Google and Yahoo be called? But then I realized the answer was simple: It would be called Google.

Meanwhile, the Exodus Continues at Yahoo
Yahoo's ineffectual leadership, falling stock price, shareholder lawsuits, and ongoing battle with Carl Icahn might all be fairly characterized as "indications that Yahoo is in serious trouble." But there are other equally-obvious signs of trouble at the beleaguered Internet pioneer. Chief among them is an ongoing brain drain and executive exodus, which got worse this week when executive vice president Jeff Weiner and chief data officer Usama Fayyad separately announced they were distancing themselves from the sinking ship that is Yahoo. Also leaving is long-time Yahoo Jeremy Zawodny, who first joined the company way back in 1999. He claims, however, that his leaving has nothing to do with the current issues, but is rather related to "something very compelling." I'm guessing it's a company with less drama and more of a future, but maybe I'm reading into this a little too much.

Struggling? You Bet. Restructuring? It's Overdue
And speaking of struggling businesses that need to replace their leadership sooner rather than later, Microsoft's Interactive Entertainment Business--responsible for disasters like the Xbox 360 and Zune--is restructuring, albeit at not a deep enough level. Jeff Bell, the corporate vice president of global marketing for the IEB, is leaving the company "to pursue other interests," a phrase that always crackles with unstated meanings, something along the lines of, to spend more time with his family. You know, instead of being at work every day. Meanwhile, a few IEB executives are getting promoted. Shane Kim will become corporate vice president of strategy and business development. And Phil Spencer will become general manager of the global Microsoft Game Studios business. A replacement for Bell has yet to be named. I think these guys need to make much bigger changes. There's something wrong over there.

PC Sales Growing Faster than Expected this Year
Analysts from both Gartner and IDC say that PC sales will grow faster this year than previously expected, due mostly to stronger-than-expected sales of portable computers. Gartner now says that PC sales will grow 12.5 percent year-over-year to 297 million units in 2008, while IDC says we can expect growth of 15 percent YOY with total unit sales of 310 million units. Low-cost portable machines like the so-called Ultra Low Cost PCs (ULCPCs) or Netbooks are expected to make a bit of a contribution to this jump, as are traditional notebook computers. Interestingly, the picture in the US retail market specifically isn't changing much, the companies say, so much of the added growth is coming from emerging markets and other overseas markets.

Palm Brings Centro to Verizon, Expects 2m in Sales
Smart phone maker Palm this week began selling its low-end Centro phone at Verizon, and the company now expects to ship 2 million units this year through all its US wireless carrier partners. That's not too shabby for a device that runs an OS that looks like it was designed during the Carter administration. But with the iPhone selling for just $199 this year, the $99 Centro is going to have its work cut out for it. More important for Palm, perhaps, is the future: Where's the next Palm OS?

iPhone 3G : A Step Back?
And speaking of the iPhone, lost amidst all the hoopla over the supposedly huge price cut is news that, alas, things aren't quite what they seem. First, the iPhone 3G is actually more expensive than its predecessor despite the up-front price cut, because the monthly cost is dramatically higher, especially if you use the SMS feature. Second, analysts are now warning that Apple's concessions to AT&T and other carriers, which led to the price cut, are a huge step back for consumers because they "undermines progress towards an open network future." The theory is that the wireless market is moving to a more open model where devices and services can be mixed and matched in ways that are currently impossible, especially in the US. But by allowing AT&T to subsidize the iPhone, Apple is in fact locking consumers into long-term contracts that come with huge financial penalties if they try to leave early. This is exactly the opposite of the open model and is, in fact, exactly the way things have been done in the US cell phone business all along. "We are now right back where we were before, in a world where customers expect carriers to underwrite device costs, and where carriers therefore maintain the high costs of retailing as well as network operations," Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Craig Moffett say. "The short-term revenue and share boost of the old and familiar subsidy model is like a drug."

Coming Tuesday: Firefox 3
Mozilla Corporation will unleash the third major version of its Web browser, Firefox 3, on Tuesday, June 13, 2008. Firefox 3 is a major, high quality upgrade, and I recommend that everyone reading this upgrade as soon as possible. In fact, make sure you download it on Tuesday: Mozilla is sponsoring a contest to beat the Guinness World Record for most software downloads in a single day. Come people, you can help make this happen.

But Wait, There's More
If you enjoy Short Takes, I'm also blogging every day at the SuperSite Blog. There's even an RSS feed (tres moderne!) for you email types and a commenting system if you want to get involved.

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