So what's it mean for computer users now that Microsoft and Yahoo today finally are announcing their long-anticipated marriage of Microsoft's Bing search engine and Yahoo's premium search advertising tools? Will this change our lives?
Actually, I think this partnership will mean far more for Microsoft and Yahoo and their corporate balance sheets than it will for those of us who are technology consumers, and here's why.
1) Will search get better due to the deal between the two companies? Now I don't have a crystal ball, but I tried Bing, I played with Bing, I experienced Bing, but Bing, you're no Google search. Yes, it has some cool features, like bringing up found items in new and useful lists that are highly targeted for users, but there's this little problem that no amount of money and advertising can change -- people's habits. And my habit, like the habit of tens of millions of computer users around me, is to call up Google whenever and wherever I have to search, every time. It's like a mother's love -- it's there forever.
2) Will Yahoo go to the dogs now that it's linked itself in a partnership deal with the slow, hard-to-steer, behemoth known as Microsoft? I do think there are more risks for Yahoo here than there are for Microsoft. Remember when the huge cable TV conglomerate Time Warner Inc. merged with the original America Online (AOL) Internet provider back in 2000, thinking it was the wave of the future and all of humanity would follow in a sea of dollar signs and goodwill? And do you know where they are now? Time Warner is spinning off AOL, which has been struggling for years, as it continues to try to figure out just what to do with it. Before teaming with Time Warner, AOL was the king of the Internet, as we all clamored to have slow, software-laden Internet access at $2.99 an hour like the good consumer lemmings we were in those days. But then cheaper, faster access arrived with DSL, cable and all-you-can-use plans, but AOL and stodgy Time Warner couldn't react quickly enough. There's a lesson here. Bigger isn't always better. I read that in a fortune cookie. I could have saved Time Warner and AOL a lot of money if I'd have told them that. Hey, Microsoft and Yahoo, are you listening?
3) Are there privacy concerns we should be worried about from this deal? That depends on the fine print, and that we'll have to have to check carefully to be sure what Microsoft and Yahoo want to do with all the consumer data they'll be able to collect from our searches. This is already an issue with Google and other search engines as we continue to make our way through this still relatively new global Internet adventure. When we use "free" services like search on the Internet, whether through Google or Yahoo or Bing or whatever, there really is no "free." Someone somewhere is using the spoils of the search - our preferences about what we are looking for - for marketing, for potential revenue enhancement and to help them in their businesses. It's an acceptable risk to us as consumers only when we know what the rules are. Somehow, though, we usually don't ask what those rules are ahead of time. Maybe we should get that information up front this time.
4) Will this Microsoft-Yahoo partnership be enough to knock Google from its perch as the king of search for savvy consumers? I doubt it, and here's why - I just don't see Microsoft and Yahoo, even with the new Bing search engine as its mascot, coming anywhere near Google with the kinds of innovations that make us all excited and Googly. There's Google Earth. Could Microsoft or Yahoo have thought of that? And there's Google Voice. OK, it's still a fledgling effort, but it is interesting and innovative, and users are lining up early to try to get a Google invite to test it out and take it for a ride. What always amazes me is how the Google tech folks are always introducing fascinating new technologies that they can bring to users in ways that no one has else has yet imagined. OK, they haven't found an answer for world peace or the vaccine for swine flu yet, but you never know. I'm just not sure that Microsoft still has any of that kind of turn-on-a-dime mentality anymore. And that's why this partnership may not help search-loving consumers or Yahoo as much as the new partners believe it will.