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A Double-Dose of Pepto-Bismol, Please

The good news coming out of JavaOne was that I didn't get sick. The bad news is that a lot of people did, leading the San Francisco Department of Public Health to issue a rare public health warning. According to the SFDPH, the suspected culprit was something called "Norovirus" that caused stomach-flu-like symptoms. I'll leave it up to you to guess what those symptoms were. However, I do have it on good authority that most of the people running for the exits and up-chucking their lunch were Yahoo! stockholders watching the value of their stock yo-yo, thanks to Yahoo!'s management brushing aside Microsoft's $44 billion takeover offer.

While there are a lot of angles to this deal—including just maybe the futures of both Yahoo!'s Jerry Yang and Microsoft's Steve Ballmer—open source has a role that can't be ignored. If the acquisition of Zimbra (www.zimbra.com), an open-source message and collaboration company; the support for the Hadoop (hadoop.apache.org) open-source distributed file system and parallel execution environment; the Yahoo! User Interface Library (developer.yahoo.com/yui); and the commitment to the OpenSocial Foundation (www.opensocial.org) tells us anything, it is that Yahoo! means to walk the open-source walk. Which makes you wonder how this would work in the world of Microsoft. Could the two business models and cultures coexist? Would a "Microsoft Yahoo!" mean a more closed Yahoo! or more open Microsoft? Or is Microsoft just talking the open-source talk?

Of course, Microsoft has taken some open steps by publishing more than 30,000 pages of documentation for its Windows client/server protocols. And in addition to new, presumably more-open, APIs for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, Microsoft continues to back the Open Source Interoperability Initiative (www.microsoft.com/opensource). But does all this add up to open source? Sure, Microsoft has talked about "greater transparency" but that doesn't necessarily translate to "open source." Nor, for that matter, does the idea and practice of "shared source."

So why does Microsoft, via an acquisition of Yahoo!, want to become an open-source company? Well, my guess is that deep-down Microsoft doesn't want to be an open-source company at all. Rather, what Microsoft wants to be is an "Internet" company, in addition to a "Desktop" company. And in today's world, Internet means "open source" and "Desktop" translates to "proprietary." But to become an Internet company means an alternative mindset, a different DNA. That's what Microsoft wants: That Internet DNA stuff—and the market share that goes with it—that people have been talking about for years. And the fastest way of making this happen is to buy it.

Now if Microsoft could figure out a way to hook up the desktop to the Internet (maybe using tools like Adobe's AIR, Mozilla's Prism, Curl's Nitro, or whatever)—that might solve the problem without having to worry about open-source this or open-source that.

Who knows but by the time you read this, Yahoo! management might have rethought the deal and gone back hat-in-hand to Microsoft. Or Microsoft may have acquired another Internet company for its Internet DNA. Or Microsoft might even have opted to open-source its product lines (not likely). I don't know. I keep waiting for the phone to ring, but Yang and Ballmer haven't yet confided in me. But what I do know is that I've said to heck with Yahoo! stock; instead, I've been loading up on shares of Pepto-Bismol (www.pepto-bismol.com). That's the only safe bet these days, as lots of people who attended JavaOne will tell you.

Jonathan Erickson


[email protected]

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