What Can Developers Hope for from Microsoft-Yahoo?

With some sort of Microsoft-Yahoo deal back in the works, I can only think about what, if anything, it could mean for developers. OK, the prospect of an outright acquisition of Yahoo by Microsoft seems to be off, but the companies are still talking about some kind of "deal." Some say they think it's about search. Maybe so. But whatever it is, I hope it stands to benefit developers. If not, it ought to.

There are several areas where the teams could focus -- and not all of them are necessarily related -- including the use of dynamic languages such as PHP, open APIs and Web services development.

Is this to say that Microsoft will suddenly realize the goodness of PHP and LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP/Python/Perl)? Not necessarily, although Microsoft does have its own PHP and Python efforts hosted on its CodePlex community site. But RESTful (Representational State Transfer) APIs and openness are what Yahoo is about. Something Microsoft can gain from. Of course, Microsoft is itself employing RESTful APIs in many of its efforts, including the Live Mesh strategy the company is working on.

Meanwhile, at the Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco on April 24, Yahoo's chief technology officer, Ari Balogh, said, "We're rewiring Yahoo from inside out to create a development platform at Yahoo that will literally open all [its] assets to developers in a way we have never done before."

In his keynote at the conference, Balogh also announced a beta of SearchMonkey, an environment designed to allow developers to create customized mashups around Yahoo's search engine.

The Yahoo Open Strategy is about opening up all the properties at Yahoo, Balogh said.

Moreover, Balogh said part of the new open strategy is about "making Yahoo more social. We are not creating yet another social network. We don't think of social as a destination; we think of social as a dimension."

Balogh said Yahoo would be opening its APIs in a consistent way to provide "a consistent view, development environment and deployment environment."

The hope would be that there could be some mutually beneficial opportunities for Microsoft developers and Yahoo developers going forward.

Meanwhile, Jason Bloomberg, an analyst with ZapThink, said in his view, "From the .Net-savvy perspective, a Microsoft-Yahoo deal represents new opportunities to incorporate Yahoo's Web 2.0-centric development tools into the broader .Net/Windows environment, and all the synergies with existing capabilities on the Microsoft platform that combination promises."

However, "from the broader Web 2.0 perspective, the fear will be that Microsoft will Borg the Yahoo tools and thus diminish their applicability in non-Microsoft environments," Bloomberg said. "In other words, this is just the latest battle in a very old war."

Indeed, one prominent Web 2.0 infrastructure software provider said: "I don't think it's going to matter for anyone for years and years. If ever. It took Microsoft three-plus years to convert Hotmail to run on a Windows stack. And that was just a single e-mail stack. I don't think Microsoft would make any radical changes to the Yahoo stack in any foreseeable future."

Some see Microsoft helping Yahoo developers in other ways.

"I think the main thing would be a boost to Yahoo's developer relations base," said Michael Cote, an analyst with RedMonk. "They do good work there, but they can't match the sheer size, staffing and experience that Microsoft has."

Indeed, in a May 5 announcement, Evans Data said one of its recent surveys showed that software developers who focus on Web 2.0 development for business applications rank Microsoft's MSN the highest when it comes to an overall Web 2.0 development site.

Cote said, "One would hope for an open source/open data/open etc. bleed-up from Yahoo to Microsoft, and getting the development philosophy of Flickr, del.icio.us and other Web 2.0 companies to trickle not only into Microsoft's Live brand but also their middleware and development tools in general would be a great additive. The concerns in this area are how Microsoft would deal with the vast PHP and non-.Net technology and communities at Yahoo. I suspect they'd just leave it alone, but who knows?"

However, "on the RIA [Rich Internet Application] front, using Yahoo to spread Silverlight would be mighty tasty, if a bitter pull for Yahoo die-hards -- who seem to favor AJAX [Asynchronous JavaScript and XML] and Flash to swallow down," Cote said.

Although Microsoft walked away from a deal to acquire Yahoo outright on May 3, on May 18 the software giant issued a statement saying, "In light of developments since the withdrawal of the Microsoft proposal to acquire Yahoo! Inc., Microsoft announced that it is continuing to explore and pursue its alternatives to improve and expand its online services and advertising business. Microsoft is considering and has raised with Yahoo! an alternative that would involve a transaction with Yahoo! but not an acquisition of all of Yahoo! Microsoft is not proposing to make a new bid to acquire all of Yahoo! at this time, but reserves the right to reconsider that alternative depending on future developments and discussions that may take place with Yahoo! or discussions with shareholders of Yahoo! or Microsoft or with other third parties.

"There of course can be no assurance that any transaction will result from these discussions."