% fortune -ae paul murphy

The! meaning! of! bing!

On the surface the bing/yahoo deal carries a simple technical message: unstructured search has finally defeated structured search. Less obviously, as even Yahoo recognized years ago the technical issue was never in doubt, so the more important message here is one of market change: with the high schoolers and oldsters whose loyalties kept structured search alive for forty plus years finally being swamped by those who see the advantages of the boolean approach.

The real meaning of the deal may, however, be financial.

IBM, Sun/Oracle, and Apple are all integrated businesses selling hardware, software, and IT services to customers worldwide. IBM and Sun/Oracle are direct competitors in commercial IT, while Apple sells from a unique consumer communications perspective, but each develops IT and related technology for its own markets and offers its customers everything from career support to systems that work.

In comparison the HP/Dell/MS/Intel grouping is a strategic mess. Between them they cover the same markets the other three do, but no single player dominates; the people they depend on for sales are aging; competition from outside the group is fierce; and technically they're not in the game with the other three.

So what to do? HP has succeeded in becoming Compaq; but, like the original, they're hurt by their lack of OS, application, and engineering control. Meanwhile, Dell is just a house branded reseller, Intel continues its long and proud history of popularizing AMD technologies; and Microsoft is constrained by its organizational inability to transcend its own x86 programming and sales models.

To succeed against IBM and Sun/Oracle the Wintel group need more than mere momentum; it needs tighter integration, and a more engineered product focus. When and how that will come about is an open question - but Microsoft's recent ads for the non existent Microsoft PC suggest, I think, that they've chosen to to address this by building an integrated products and services company of their own. Thus the financial meaning of the Yahoo deal might be that Microsoft gets a longer reach, but keeps its cash available for strategic acquisition: presumably either HP or Dell.

That would give the world three big integrated IT suppliers plus Apple: all offering their customers everything from hardware to application support services -with IBM selling into its traditional big money DP markets, Sun/Oracle selling advanced technologies and packaged applications, and the Microsoft PC company straddling in the middle: advertising technology but mainly selling to hobbyists, small businesses, and data processing.

So which one? I'd bet on Microsoft going after Dell now and AMD later because that will force HP and Intel to make some deeply traumatic choices - but there's no good reason Mr. Balmer couldn't cut the Microsoft PC company's long term cost of slaughtering HP by going after both companies right now: he's got the money; anti-trust in the Obama is just a loyalties issue; and a survivor, if there is one, would be seriously weakened.

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.