Interview Well, here I am just a few miles from Yahoo!' headquarters and Microsoft's Silicon Valley residence. It's Sunday, and I've yet to hear screams from either camp. So, it seems that Microsoft's call to action deadline around the Yahoo! buy is passing with a lack of fanfare. Yahoo! may surprise us yet by leaking something to the New York Times or perhaps Steve Ballmer will call up his buds at the Wall Street Journal, but in lieu of such actual movements, I'm left wanting.
And so it seems appropriate to turn back to Mark Shuttleworth, the ultra-rich spaceman funding the Ubuntu operating system project. As our stats logs tell it, you people can't get enough of this dude even though he's suspected of torturing woodland creatures in a Chelsea dungeon. Whatever. Call your local PETA representative. The open source march will not be stopped by some bloodied wombats and pandas.
During a recent interview in London, Shuttleworth had plenty to say about Microhoo.
"The Microsoft and Yahoo thing is fascinating," he told me. "I think the ad game is lost. So, Microsoft buying Yahoo! now on search? Come on. Two failing operators will just continue to decline together. On search, I think it's totally a waste of time."
Well, if the deal is not about selling search ads, then what's going on here?
"Yahoo is basically a conduit to a content creation company, and I think that is a deadly business to be in," Shuttleworth said. "For Microsoft to own more content when content is unprofitable and content generation is unprofitable is risky, I think."
Gee thanks, Mark. The content creation business is actually tremendous. Especially when you readers click on the ads surrounding this story. Can you see them? (Actually, forget the ads. Just send me an e-mail, and I'll direct you to my PayPal account.)
"So, for Microsoft, this deal is all about flailing," Shuttleworth said. "For them to succeed in that next generation game, they will need to have a vision that is better than Yahoo!'s vision, which is better than Google's vision, and they need to execute it.
"I think this game will swing from the desktop to the web and eventually back again in really interesting ways. They already have a hell of a big investment in whatever their vision is. It's not like they were waiting to buy Yahoo!. They were spending gagillions of dollars, which they have, on data centers for that sort of vision. So, what does Yahoo give them then? A brand, which they will probably screw up."
Even with all that going for Microsoft, Shuttleworth found time to highlight another troubling area.
"Integration is one problem, but no one is talking about another of Yahoo!'s big issues, which is salaries. Their strategy was basically to hire thousands of people to create content and thousands of them in countries where they are cheap. We see the salaries in those countries going right through the roof. So, I wonder if Microsoft isn't about to swallow a hand-grenade."
Ballmer swallows hand-grenades for breakfast, Mark. That's part of what battling anti-trust regulators for years and years and years is all about. Why do you think he looks that way?
Ah, but there is a plus side to this whole planned acquisition, and that's the open source angle.