Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Bid For Yahoo

I'm clearly crazy for writing this post since I've been awake for more than 60 of the past 72 hours. Regardless, the pile of stuff I want to talk about is growing and I just have to let it all out. Let's start the most jaw-dropping news this week: Microsoft offered $44.6 billion to buy Yahoo, which is a 62% over-valuation based on the current market price of its stock. The point? That shouldn't be too hard to figure out: Google has been threatening Microsoft for years with its heavy stake in Internet search and Microsoft is hoping to strike back by purchasing a company that fell from on high and never fully recovered. Google, naturally, is not happy. That's an understatement: they're so displeased with this deal that they've become conspiracy theorists claiming that Microsoft's control would bring "inappropriate and illegal influence over the Internet" and that this is a "hostile bid". Plus, they implicitly suggest that it'll create a monopoly. So first of all, Microsoft has been on the Internet for a while (even though they got on board a bit late), so their influence hasn't really been inappropriate so far. I don't know how illegal a merge they r would be with Yahoo because I'm not sure if their combined market shares would be enough to be considered so, but that's something for the SEC to figure out. Essentially, Google is trying to cast doubt on the deal and shovel dirt on it in hopes that they won't have competition. I, amazingly enough, agree with MSNBC though: Google is going to stay king of search. Ignoring the huge hurdles Microsoft would have to overcome with cultural differences is the enormous momentum that Google has to the point that their brand has created a barrier to entry in and of itself.

Yahoo and MSN actually have cool stuff (have you ever tried Live Image Search or the bird's eye view in their maps?) to back up their search portal, but no one is looking because their eyes are glued to Google. This merger, I hate to say, would greatly benefit both companies. Yahoo may be reluctant just because being bought out by a company like Microsoft is a bit of a shock, but I don't imagine that anyone else will take them and years of mismanagement have shaken the foundations of the companies core technologies. The people there are smart they're just not acting quick enough to put a dent in Google's empire and they need a lot more resources if they hope to take on Goliath. I know what you're thinking, Microsoft is evil and if they get Yahoo then they get the PC market and the online market, and then Microsoft will rule the world. It's not that simple. Much like no one has toppled Windows as the predominant OS to more than a niche market no one has really dented Google because both brands are too ridiculously strong. Yeah, Mac and Linux have gained steam and are doing better and better, but they're not going to take over any time in the foreseeable future unless Windows just completely implodes. Even with this merger, it'll just create competition for Google and we, the consumers, will get more fun tools to play with. It will likely hurt Google's revenues, but it won't screw them over and it won't give Bill Gates the keys to the Internet. If Yahoo is smart though, they'll take the offer and try out something new. They've had plenty of time to adjust and have gotten nowhere. Steve Ballmer is really focused on winning this deal, so don't expect it to end just because Yahoo holds out or says 'no'.

There has magically been a breakthrough in the Writer's Guild strike: there were actaully some talks on Friday and we may see some good news before next week. It was a leak so we don't have details, but let's cross our fingers because I miss The Office, 24, and Heroes, damnit!

Of course, sports don't require writers and plenty of people still tuned in for the Superbowl; almost 98 million to be exact. It was the best ratings ever, probably because people were praying for New England to lose, and the Giants thankfully came through. The ads were pretty funny, in my opinion, and my personal favorite was the FedEx one with the giant pigeons. That was legendary. You can see them all here, organized by quarter. Once again, the GoDaddy one was really dumb. One of the things mentioned that I never saw a press release for was Pepsi's promotion with Amazon MP3. Much like Coke's alliance with iTunes, Pepsi has codes on the bottle caps for points for Amazon MP3 downloads and other stuff from as well. I think it's a really smart promotion to help showcase Amazon's newly acquired selection of DRM-free mp3s with deals from all 4 major labels. I hope it helps Amazon MP3's exposure! A lot of stuff like this will be necessary to even touch iTunes. While I'm on Amazon though: they recently acquired and I totally missed this. is an excellent service and I guess this will just lengthen the Amazon Mp3 arm to more audiobooks, but I wonder if it will be used at all in connection with the 2G Kindle (whenever that gets made)?

What you see on TV now that the game is over though is election stuff. I should disclose that I really support Obama and I can't imagine that so many Democrats support Clinton. Anyway, I wanted to plug this Obama video because it was just really well done:

If you have any Democratic inclination, I strongly urge you to watch it. Please, watch it for me! It combines words from his speeches with various artists who sing them (including the awesome John Legend). I'm not alone in the Obama boat though: the Times in the UK claim that Obama is the Democrats' best shot at the White House for various issues including the fact that she really pisses off the Republicans and helps unite them. It's an interesting read, and I'm plugging it because I think that it's important that people educate themselves. No matter who you vote for, make sure you understand the issues and not stupid smear campaigns or other nonsense.

Here's another big topic I need to address: the 700 Mhz spectrum and open access. So what is open access? Engadget explains it better than I can, but it allows interoperability of cell phones so that you can easily take your cell phone to another carrier because they can buy pieces of the spectrum as well and also that any applications must work on the spectrum regardless of your carrier. It should be obvious why the telcos hate this: it means they have to compete rather than just lock you in to their service. The iPhone wouldn't exist, for example, on this spectrum because you couldn't take it to Verizon or Sprint. The telcos are lumping it under net neutrality and fighting it as being "antiproperty". This is bull though: the point of open access is not to give up ownership of the network so that no one can make money, but rather so that to make money your service has to have value and actually competitive functionality rather than schemes to force you stay with them for crappy service. Anyway, what's really cool about this spectrum is that you'll be able to make/receive calls from anywhere because of its ridiculous range, and the fact that the FCC agreed to open access and open applications is a great victory for net neutrality proponents.

Speaking of phones though, there's news from Cupertino. Apple quietly started selling 16 GB iPhones. We all knew it was coming because of the 16 GB iPod Touches, we just didn't know when. This bad boy only costs $100 more than the 8GB at $500, and we don't know if anything had to change internally for the form factor to remain the same. I guess we just hope for the best.

So I think that this is a pretty huge deal: the 2007 Turing Award winners were announced yesterday. Usually it's one person, but 3 people collaborated on Model Checking so they all get the award. Dr. E Allen Emerson, an endowed professor here in UT CS, is one of these three people. This award only pays $250k (split 3 ways in this case), but the point is the prestige since this is the highest honor in CS in the world. I'm proud of this department for having him on board, and I'm sorry I never took his course but I was just tired of theory last year. Their research was a procedure for quality assurance, used to verify formal systems. This is a lot easier to do in hardware than software so this drastically improved the quality of chips from the semiconductor industry and the rest, as they say, is history. This unexpectedly boosts the stock of my Bachelor's degree though, but I really wish I could do the 5-year masters program that the department is putting together now. Even better is the new curriculum they're coming up with. I'm so glad that UT CS is really adapting itself to the needs of today's world and recognizing barriers to entry in getting a masters degree for applying to grad school and such. Very exciting stuff.

I don't know about you, but solving a Rubik's Cube has always been a great mystery to me and now there are some great videos online to explain how to solve it step-by-step. I'm keeping this for later when I have the time to try it all out.

I'm going to end with some humor here before I hit the sack. You're sure to chuckle while reading this redux of questions from FAQs that probably weren't asked. My favorite one is whether it's safe for a dog to chew gum. If you are feeding your dog gum then you have serious issues. The other thing is that Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Conan O'Brien have been having this whole tiff about who created Mike Huckabee, that then evolved into who created Stephen Colbert, which snowballed into who created Jon Stewart and Conan. A quick summary: Colbert and Conan both claim to have created Romney, Conan claims to have created Colbert, Jon claims to have created Conan (and, hence, Colbert), Colbert decided that he was John McCain, and Conan later claimed to have created Jon and Colbert in a very compelling photo. And here's just a really funny scene from all this commotion:

You can see more at the Comedy Central site and if you look at all three shows from February 4.

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