Post-Microhoo: Winners and losers

Round and round they went. Now that the music's stopped--for the time being--here's what you need to know about the new constellation of forces

Barring a come to Jesus moment by both sides, "Microhoo" is dead and buried. So who won and who lost? Months from now, we'll have a clear idea. In the meantime, here are my back-of-the-envelope picks.

Biggest winners: Steve Ballmer and Microsoft
A lot has been made of Microsoft's seeming inability to engineer its way out of a paper bag. Trouble with the conventional wisdom is that it's usually out of date. Prior to Ray Ozzie coming onboard and Microsoft's move to embrace cloud computing in a big way, Yahoo may have been worth nearly any price.

Jerry Yang is a girly-man--and that goes double for Eric Schmidt.

Not now. Besides, why buy trouble? By walking away from a protracted proxy contest, Ballmer saved billions buying a company which would have existed in name only. Too many malcontented Yahoo employees would have walked out the door. What's more, the cost of integrating the companies would have been a cluster bomb. Now Microsoft can dip into that big war chest and selectively buy any number of Web 2.0-ish companies to complement its bigger strategic ambitions.

Biggest losers: Jerry Yang and Yahoo
When Wall Street opens on Monday morning, I wouldn't want to be holding shares of Yahoo. After the company effectively put the kibosh on what would have been a 70 percent premium, investors are going to have a fit. In his letter, Ballmer said Microsoft was going to raise its offer to $33 a share, or another $5 billion, but the deal fell apart because Yahoo wanted even more.

I've got a plan. Really. I do.

I'm anxious to hear Yahoo's side of the story, but the spotlight's on Yang to convince outsiders that he held out for all the right reasons and not because of personal animus toward either Ballmer or Microsoft. Perhaps he thinks he can inveigle Rupert Murdoch and News Corp. or that the Google connection will work out to Yahoo's bigger benefit. Tough to say what's going through his head these days. Yang has remained incommunicado during the course of the entire novella. Perhaps he believes this clears the decks for the "rewiring" of Yahoo previewed by the company's CTO last month at the Web 2.0 conference. Maybe it does in the long term, but Yang doesn't have two years to muck around. He's got to produce a turnaround now.

Eric Schmidt and Google: Moderate losers
It's as simple as a zero-sum game. Whatever hurts Microsoft benefits Google. And vice-versa. The conventional thinking is that the Microhoo combo would have presented Google with a potent threat. I don't buy that line.

Sergey, Larry, and I quite enjoy Steve's Monkeyboy routine

On paper, a Microsoft-Yahoo merger looked formidable. In practice, however, it was rife with potential for a major culture clash. Management would have been bogged down for months trying to figure out how to get all the high-strung boys and girls on both teams to play nice. Google would have continued to feed its juggernaut, snickering all the while at "Micro-molasses." Now Ballmer's going to be in a frenzy to get Microsoft back in the game. Google would have fared better if Microsoft had to focus on making a Yahoo merger work.

Rupert et al: Moderate winners
Round and round they go. Maybe Murdoch or the folks at Time Warner (AOL) still hanker after Yahoo. If so, they may yet get another chance to twirl. During the last couple of months every scenario was on the table. Here's another: if Yahoo's stock fails to recover, Yang doesn't have any wiggle room. Without immediate improvement in the stock price, management may be amenable to a combination between Yahoo and one of its erstwhile suitors.

 

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