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Innovation

Could Yahoo's 'openness' be another anti-Microsoft poison pill?

Even though Microsoft and Yahoo allegedly are at the bargaining table, I can't help but wonder what Yahoo is doing behind the scenes to minimize Microsoft's impact when and if it acquires Yahoo.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor on

Even though Microsoft and Yahoo allegedly are at the bargaining table, I can't help but wonder what Yahoo is doing behind the scenes to minimize Microsoft's impact when and if it acquires Yahoo.

We already know that Yahoo CEO Yang created golden parachutes for Yahoo employees (along with laying off about 1,000 employees -- including some high-profile ones -- shortly after Microsoft announced its bid for his company). But what else might Yahoo be doing to make sure at least that its open-source roots don't get completely chopped by Redmond -- and, at most, to make itself even less easily digestable by Microsoft?

Microsoft's 'open' and Yahoo's 'open' are not one and the same. I am not basing this speculation on anything that any named or unnamed Microsoft or Yahoo source (or, as some like to call these folks "people familiar with the situation") hinted to me. I just started pondering this when reading through a few of Yahoo's recent "we're more open than ever" announcements.

Yahoo traditionally has been and continues to be a big open-source backer. It runs its datacenters on open-source software (something Microsoft officials have said they don't intend to rip and replace immediately -- while avoiding saying never).

But over the past couple of weeks, Yahoo has really been banging its "we're more open than ever" drum."

Yahoo announced in mid-February that it had implemented what it believed to be "the world's largest commercial application of Apache Hadoop Java-based distributed-computing framework." Yahoo is using Hadoop to process its Webmap, which is its "application which produces the index from the billions of pages crawled by Yahoo Search," according to the Yahoos.

This week, Yahoo announced plans to open up its Yahoo search infrastructure by supporting a number of evolving "semantic Web standards" available under a variety of licensing mechanisms, from Creative Commons, to Dublin Core. It is promising to share more details -- and possibly code -- with developers in a couple of weeks at an event in Sunnyvale.

Some Microsoft officials have become fond of using "open" to describe Microsoft's protocols, formats and strategies. Microsoft is courting open-source developers like Apache, Zend, Mozilla, JBoss and others to port their open-source wares to run on Windows. Microsoft is releasing certain (less financially significant) products and technologies under not just Shared Source, but also the Microsoft Public License (MS-PL) and Microsoft Reciprocal License (MS-RL) -- which are considered bona-fide open-source licenses.

But Microsoft's "open" and Yahoo's "open" are not one and the same. For the past couple of years, Microsoft has been building out its Windows Live development platform. Microsoft is making a handful of Live application programming interfaces (APIs) available to developers. In some cases, royalty payments to Microsoft are involved, as well.

Like Yahoo, Microsoft bills itself as "opening up" its Live platform. A year ago, it published its simplified terms of use for several of its Live APIs. Microsoft is not open-sourcing any Live APIs or code (that I know of). And it still is holding back making available some of the APIs (such as Live Storage) that developers have been awaiting.

I can't help but remember what happened when Novell decided to throw its backing behind version 3 of the GNU General Public License. Microsoft ended up backing away from its promise to indemnify Novell customers if they were running SuSE Enterprise Linux that was licensed under GPLv3.

If Microsoft ends up acquiring Yahoo, what will the Redmondians do with Yahoo APIs, protocols, services and code that might be licensable under terms and mechanisms that Micrsooft finds unsupportable and antithetical to its business models? Do you think Yahoo is trying to throw open as many "open" gates as it can before Microsoft can acquire the company?

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