WinInfo Short Takes: Week of November 10, 2008

An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news, including a slew of Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft silliness; Steve Ballmer walks up to a mic and hilarity ensues, Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2 and the lockstep myth, and so much more ...

WinInfo Blog

My wife is in Phoenix
visiting friends this weekend, which means I'm home alone watching the kids. I can tell they sense the fear, because when I woke up this morning, they were doing something unprompted which they'd never done without a lot of badgering: Emptying the dishwasher. This made me simultaneously proud and nervous, which again they apparently sensed, so they got dressed for school without me having to ask. Curious. Maybe they'll cook dinner tonight too.

Thanks to technical difficulties, Leo and I were unable to record the Windows Weekly podcast on Thursday. But fear not, we'll get it done Friday afternoon if all goes well, so the new episode should appear over the weekend as usual.

Short Takes

Bang Bang You're Dead ...

Yahoo! was in the news again this week and as usual these days, it was for all the wrong reasons. It began over last weekend when Google and Yahoo! began a furious attempt to recast their anticompetitive ad sharing agreement in order to stave off a federal lawsuit from the US Department of Justice (DOJ) which, after 8 years of Bushian silence, has apparently re-found its antitrust mojo. That work, alas, was fruitless: Google abandoned the deal, leaving a confused and hurt Yahoo! at the altar, a situation that the company, again alas, is all-too-familiar with. So how does Yahoo! respond to the suddenly very real challenge of rejuvenating a company that everyone, frankly, is just a bit tired of? They blame Microsoft, of course.

... Did Not Did Too ...
The beauty of this situation is that everyone involved is pretty much lying. First up is Google, which claims that it abandoned its deal with Yahoo! even though "we believe we ultimately would have won," according to CEO and head spinmeister Eric Schmidt. Right. That's what most people who are confident of victory do: Give up. Next up, however, is the most unintentionally hilarious entrant in this story, Yahoo! CEO Jerry Yang, the man most responsible for scuttling Microsoft's epic $44.6 billion offer for his company. Yang was widely misquoted in the wake of the Google-Yahoo! deal implosion that Yahoo's best option, now, would be for Microsoft to buy the company. That sounds like a big reversal for the guy who did everything he could to keep his company independent. Too bad that's not what he said, however. "To this day, I would say the best thing for Microsoft is to buy Yahoo," Yang actually. In other words, in Yang's mind, Microsoft is the one in trouble, and it's only real option is to try and buy Yahoo! ... for a third time this year. See, here's the thing. That's funny and everything, but Yahoo! is a financial and technological albatross in the midst of a high profile death spiral. You'd have to be pretty crazy to want to buy this company.

... Stop Diddy-Bopping Buddy ...
Enter Steve "crazy guy" Ballmer. The CEO of Microsoft is, of course, the man who did, in fact, try to buy Yahoo! (twice) and then for a massive premium over the company's actual (and constantly dwindling) value. What does Monkey Boy have to say about the whole thing? Responding to Yang's less-than-candid comments about the possibilities, Ballmer said that Microsoft has "moved on." "We are not interested in going back and re-looking at an acquisition," he added. "I don't know why \[Yahoo!\] would be either, frankly. They turned us down at $33 a share." In other words, were Microsoft to actually make an offer for Yahoo! now, it would be a lot less than $33 a share. I'm thinking somewhere in the $3 range, personally, sort of a mercy killing.

... Bouncing Betty on You ...
But this is Ballmer we're talking about, and anytime you stick the guy in front of a microphone, he's going to keep talking until you yank it away. So after noting pretty decisively, as quoted above, that Microsoft was not interested in Yahoo! at all, Ballmer, of course, took it all back. Maybe there are still some possibilities around a Web search partnership, he said, noting that the companies had also tried something like that before Yahoo! got into bed with Google. Seriously, guys. Seriously.

Vive le Rock
And just in case you though this Yahoo! silliness was finally over, I should also point out that the implosion of that hugely anticompetitive ad deal between Google and Yahoo! may have emboldened Microsoft to get more competitively aggressive in the online space. This week, the company began working behind the scenes to undermine a search deal between Google and wireless giant Verizon. Microsoft is offering Verizon better terms than Google has (and possibly ever will), including better revenue sharing and guarantees of higher payments. Actually, this is entirely in keeping with Microsoft's online search strategy. Which is, of course, to pay people to use their technology instead of Google's. It's nice to have money to spend, I guess.

Will Microsoft Switch IE to WebKit? No, Virginia
This would have been the funniest thing to happen this week if it weren't for Jerry Yang, but the Interwebs are all alight with news that Microsoft is considering switching its Internet Explorer Web browser to the WebKit rendering engine used by Google Chrome and Apple Safari. The reason we're even discussing this bit of silliness is that Steve Ballmer supposedly suggested this was a possibility during a Q & A session in Australia. But here's what really happened. Someone asked Ballmer if IE was becoming irrelevant because of the speed of Web standards developments and whether the company should simply save its money and use a faster-moving Web standards rendering engine. Ballmer was quoted as saying that the guy was "cheeky" for asking that. But he didn't say that, at least not first: The talk moderator said it, and then Ballmer repeated it for comedic effect. (He then said he didn't know what "cheeky" means.) He was also quoted as saying that WebKit was "interesting" and that Microsoft might need a new rendering engine for IE. He didn't really say that either. What he said was this. " I think there's going to continue to be a lot of proprietary innovation by us and by other people inside the browser ... It's important that we have a browser that embraces standards but also allows us to provide innovative extensions that allow you to do things even before a standards body gets there." In other words, IE having its own rendering engine isn't just beneficial, it's superior because it lets Microsoft move more quickly than the Web standards the questioner was so worried about. As for WebKit, Ballmer said the following, but he was addressing open source software more generally. "That's an interesting thing." He then added, about WebKit specifically, "Apple has embraced WebKit. But that's a thing, from time to time, we may take a look at, but right now we feel very confident in our browser team and its ability to execute, and what it's doing in rendering, and in a lot of the amazing extensions that we've done in IE 8 and have planned into the future." In case it's not obvious, the lesson here is a classic. Don't believe everything you read on the Interwebs. Because as with statistics, you can apparently warp a quote to mean anything you want it to mean.

Ballmer: Android is "Way Behind"
I just can't get enough of Steve Ballmer this week. At the same Australian event that spawned the WebKit silliness noted above, the Microsoft CEO took the opportunity to jab at Google, whose first Android-based smart phone just shipped into the market. "They can hire smart guys, hire a lot of people, blah dee blah dee blah, but you know they start out way behind in a certain sense," he said. "I don't really understand their strategy. Maybe somebody else does. If I went to my shareholder meeting, my analyst meeting and said, hey, we've just launched a new product that has no revenue model!" I'm not going to do the legwork on this one--sorry, it's Friday and my head just isn't there yet--but I'm pretty sure Ballmer said something similar (identical?) about the iPhone. And the last time I checked, Apple is on track to sell well north of 50 percent of what Microsoft sells annually with its Windows Mobile OS. So much for starting "way behind." Arguably, its Windows Mobile that is "way behind," assuming you care about things like functionality and usability.

Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2 Developed in Lockstep, Yes. But Not Shipping in Lockstep
There continues to be confusion surrounding the release plans for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2, two products that Microsoft continually notes are being developed hand-in-hand. The confusion stems from the fact that the software giant is trying to mask the real release dates. Though Windows 7 and Server 08 R2 are, in fact, based on the exact same code base--Microsoft even refers to R2 as "Windows 7 Server" sometimes--they're not shipping at the same time. Microsoft is currently targeting 2009 for Windows 7, but doesn't expect to ship R2 until the second quarter of 2010. Of course, that's not what they're saying publicly. "We are planning to ship \[R2\] on the same day as \[Windows 7\]," Microsoft senior vice president Bob Muglia told ZD's Mary Jo Foley this week, for example. For this to happen, R2 will need to ship 6 to 9 months earlier than anticipated or Windows 7 has to ship a similar amount of time later than expected. Neither will happen, from what I can tell.

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