Week in review: Icahn, Microsoft merger maven?

Yahoo faces a proxy battle, while Facebook snubs Google's Friend Connect. Also: New Web surf for streets and stars. (Posted in News Blog by Steven Musil)

Steven Musil Night Editor / News
Steven Musil is the night news editor at CNET News. He's been hooked on tech since learning BASIC in the late '70s. When not cleaning up after his daughter and son, Steven can be found pedaling around the San Francisco Bay Area. Before joining CNET in 2000, Steven spent 10 years at various Bay Area newspapers.
Expertise I have more than 30 years' experience in journalism in the heart of the Silicon Valley.
Steven Musil
6 min read
Billionaire investor Carl iCahn has a bone to pick with Yahoo's board of directors for not accepting Microsoft's buyout offer.

The notorious shareholder activist Carl Icahn formally announced that he is launching a proxy fight. He has formed a 10-member slate in an effort to unseat Yahoo's current board at the company's annual shareholder meeting on July 3.

Icahn, who stated that he has acquired roughly 59 million shares of Yahoo, has also sought antitrust clearance from the Federal Trade Commission to acquire up to another $2.5 billion in Yahoo shares.

Icahn is leaning on such high-profile tech names as Mark Cuban in his efforts to unseat Yahoo's current board at its annual shareholder meeting and to pave the way for a Microsoft-Yahoo merger. Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks and chairman of HDNet, ironically sold Broadcast.com to Yahoo for $5.04 billion in 1999.

Icahn has been making his mark in the tech industry of late, most notably in the last year or so, with his actions regarding Motorola and BEA Systems. Over the past 13 years, he's logged more wins than losses in his proxy fights, according to FactSet SharkWatch.

Microsoft earlier this month walked away from its multibillion-dollar bid to buy Yahoo when the two companies failed to come to agreement over the purchase price.

Some CNET News.com readers were suspicious of Icahn's motives.

"Icahn specializes in what's best for him," one reader wrote in the TalkBack forum. "Is he in this for the long haul? Or just the short-term profit?"

On the other side of the merger manners meter, Hewlett-Packard proved that friendly blockbuster deals could still be done today.

HP plans to acquire computer services firm EDS for $13.9 billion in a deal intended to boost HP's services revenue. HP expects that the addition of EDS will more than double HP's services revenue of $16.6 billion in fiscal 2007.

But the sheer size of the deal is more than a bit daunting. The deal represents the combination of the largest number of people that the IT services sector has seen, Gartner analyst Ben Pring said, and HP faces serious challenges when it comes to integrating two vastly different companies. The track record of deals like this is "pretty spotty," Pring said, and IBM's purchase of PricewaterhouseCoopers demonstrated that the transition can be tough.

In other merger news, CBS has agreed to acquire CNET Networks, the publisher of News.com, in a deal valued at $1.8 billion. The acquisition will make CBS one of the 10 most popular Internet companies in the United States, with a combined 54 million unique users per month and about 200 million users worldwide, the companies said.

Google wants to make friends
Google has unveiled a preview of Friend Connect, a way to add social features to a Web site without programming. Meanwhile, Facebook has announced its own Facebook Connect, in which members will be able to use their Facebook identities across the Web--profile photos, names, photos, friends, groups, events, and other information. Facebook profile content, for example, could appear on other social sites, and Facebook event listings could theoretically connect with external event and invitation services.

It's a big move for Facebook. Until this point, the social network has had a reputation for keeping its cards close to its chest--even banning the account of popular blogger Robert Scoble when he used a script to export his Facebook contact list to Plaxo. But Facebook has a representative in the Data Portability Workgroup, and executives have said Facebook has wanted to bring its information outside the site eventually.

Google Friend Connect, on the other hand, employs several more-or-less standard networking technologies--OpenSocial as a foundation for richer Web applications; OpenID to handle login chores; and OAuth to let users approve the grafting of new branches onto their existing social networks.

It's yet another option in the complicated and fast-changing set of alliances and standards efforts in the social-networking domain. When Friend Connect was first announced, Google engineers explained that it would take advantage of other social-networking sites' APIs to enrich the program--including Facebook's.

However, a post on Facebook's developer blog explains that the social network has suspended Google Friend Connect's access to its API, citing a violation of its internal terms of service. Facebook contends that while its users would manually opt in to Friend Connect, they would not have control over the third-party sites that would then use Friend Connect through Google's API.

Meanwhile, Comcast is adding a social dimension to its services through the acquisition of Plaxo. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the purchase price is thought to be in the $150 million to $170 million range. The acquisition is a big win for Plaxo, whose Pulse social-networking service, with 1.5 million active monthly users, has been overshadowed by the likes of Facebook and MySpace.

Web surf's up on street, stars
Google is gathering 3D data along with the photographs it takes for its online Street View service, a potential boon for those of us who fantasize about flying like Superman through urban landscapes--at least virtually.

"The imaging technology includes lasers that collect 3D geometry data," the company said in a statement. However, for now, at least, the 3D information is just experimental, Google said.

Savvy observers, looking at Flickr pictures of Google Street View cars gathering images in Milan, had identified the 3D laser scanners in April. At the time, Google didn't comment, but it now has confirmed the scanners, as well as the expansion of Google Street View to Europe.

Google Maps now can also show real-estate listings, presenting pushpins that show houses for sale. To show real-estate results, click "Show search options," then select "Real Estate" from the drop-down list. The Web site then shows a list of properties for sale on the left tied to pushpins on the map on the right.

Search results can be refined by specifying price range or number of bedrooms and bathrooms. In addition, there's a text mode that will be more familiar to the classified-ad crowd. (Huh? Text mode for a mapping site? There's still a small map visible.)

But soon you will be seeing less from Google's Street View; the company has begun testing face-blurring technology, responding to privacy concerns from the search giant's all-seeing digital-camera eye. The technology uses a computer algorithm to scour Google's image database for faces, then blurs them, said John Hanke, director of Google Earth and Google Maps.

He likened the issues some have with Street View to the ones that took place when Google introduced aerial views to Google Maps. It took time for the public, regulators, and Google to get comfortable with the feature, but "it needs that debate. We see that and try to let it play out."

Meanwhile, Microsoft launched its WorldWide Telescope, a free Web-based program that allows Web surfers to explore galaxies, star systems, and distant planets. The program, which was developed by Microsoft's research arm, weds images from the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory Center, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, and others.

Microsoft said WorldWide Telescope will be made available for free as a tribute to Jim Gray, a Microsoft researcher who disappeared off the California coast while sailing last year.

Also of note
The One Laptop Per Child project and Microsoft announced that the XO laptop will be available in both Linux and Windows varieties...A federal grand jury indicted a Missouri woman who allegedly participated in a cruel online hoax that ultimately ended up with a 13-year-old girl committing suicide...Cox is the latest Internet service provider to have been found blocking peer-to-peer traffic on its network.