Helen Popkin
By
msnbc.com
updated 2/1/2008 6:11:58 PM ET 2008-02-01T23:11:58

An icy wind blew through hell just now, but tech nerds and business wonks are pretty much the only kids catching a chill. For the Net-surfing majority, Microsoft Corp.’s unsolicited $44.6 billion bid to buy Yahoo! barely registers beneath the din of the police motorcade escorting Britney Spears to the loony bin — even if they’re using either media company’s products to access such information.

Odds are, however, most search engine-savvy civilians aren’t using Microsoft or Yahoo! products to acquire their pop wreck news bulletins. Everyone knows that all the cool kids use Google! That’s what Microsoft’s semi-surprise acquisition invitation is about, right? If you can’t beat Google, buy its failing predecessor (Yahoo!), eliminating other user options along the way.

(Msnbc.com is a Microsoft-NBC Universal joint venture.)

"Today, the market is increasingly dominated by one player who is consolidating its dominance through acquisition," Microsoft chief executive Steven A. Ballmer wrote in an early valentine to Yahoo!’s board of directors. "Together, Microsoft and Yahoo can offer a credible alternative for consumers, advertisers, and publishers."

That “one player” Ballmer’s referring to is, of course, Google. And Micro$quash (as my I.T. engineer sister puckishly refers to the software giant) knows a little something about dominance and acquisition. Hands up, everyone who remembers “Embrace, extend and extinguish," that catchy memo motto the U.S. Department of Justice found so problematic during Microsoft’s antitrust trial.

“Resistances is futile” may be an appropriate update, seeing as Ballmer’s letter also lets Yahoo! share holders know that Microsoft is not above taking what is not willingly surrendered: “Depending on the nature of your response, Microsoft reserves the right to pursue all necessary steps to ensure that Yahoo!’s shareholders are provided with the opportunity to realize the value inherent in our proposal.”

Again, hands up if you hear the “Imperial March” playing in your head! That’s not to say Google isn’t well on its way to owning the Universe, what with its ever-increasing Internet acquisitions, including YouTube and DoubleClick, which is all about ad revenues, the Internet’s driving force. (After porn.)

Still, Google’s managed to avoid the full-on “evil empire” image sticking on Microsoft like womp rat entrails on a Skyhopper windscreen. Maybe it’s that catchy (unofficial) Google motto once bandied by founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin: "Don't be evil" — a direct jab at Micro$quash ... um … Microsoft.

Maybe users are more willing to overlook Google’s contributions toa shrinking cyberspace becausethe company has spawned some serious user-friendly Internet innovations. You’ve got your gmail, one of the first free e-mail applications to offer massive amounts of storage and a decent e-mail search tool. Also, Google Maps (I can see your house from here!), Google Earth, Google Docs, etc., etc., infinity.

See, Google’s hit the sweet spot. You know: “I came for the search but I stayed for the e-mail, the online collaborative word processing, as well as the this, the that and the other.” Google consistently beats everyone because it flipped the table by not making content its draw — a genius concept before its time.

The only business reason for creating content (if you're not a content site) is so that it’ll get picked up by a search engine and drive traffic to your site. Microsoft’s power play may provide the opportunity to launch its online offerings using Yahoo!’s draw, such as its e-mail, homepages, etc.

Bon chance. At least Yahoo!'s been doing some smart stuff in the areas of picking up other savvy companies and tying them together. Which brings us to one buyout implication that’s giving plenty of netizens the wiggins: In the event of Microhoo!, “What’s going to happen to my Yahoo! stuff?”

Will Microsoft observe the prime directive when it comes to Flickr’s primitive yet burgeoning photo-sharing civilizations? What’s to become of social bookmarking site del.icio.us, one of the few Internet bastions where you’re not bombarded by online advertising?

Most importantly, us kids who prefer the tidiness of Yahoo! over endless gmail strands sure don’t want our Yahoo! accounts turned into the dreaded bug-infested Hotmail.

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