What Can You Get For $1 Billion Dollars?

A billion dollars is a lot of money for most people, even most companies. But what does it buy? In Microsoft’s case it buys patents and in Facebook’s case it buys a mobile startup.

AOL (Netscape) Patents

Microsoft spent $1 billion dollars on what seems like mostly Netscape patents. Presumably this is to declare war on Google, Apple, and the web at large, which is trivializing the Windows platform.

If this goes through and Microsoft gets this portfolio, it could be damaging to the web. Time will tell what happens here. It’s hard to say as patents, especially tech related are hardly clear what they refer to and are often used against anything that sounds vaguely similar.

This could be ugly.

Instagram

Facebook felt Instagram, a scrappy mobile photo startup was worth $1 billion dollars. Presumably the value was in a dozen employees who can create such a popular and scalable photo community in a short period of time. It’s also about squashing their biggest competitor. Most people don’t realize this but Facebook is a photo site. It’s the biggest photo site. Flickr is essentially dead in the water as Yahoo figures out it’s future. Google hasn’t figured out Picasa. Instagram was Facebook’s only substantial opponent in this space. For $1 billion dollars they bought their competitor.

Long term I don’t see the app surviving. It will be merged in and perhaps Facebook will integrate photo sharing with a few other sites (Twitter, Flickr, Tumblr), but within the Facebook platform. It just doesn’t make much sense to do otherwise. It’s a lot of duplication and the integration between Facebook and Instagram isn’t up to Facebook’s usual seamlessness standard.

Instagram as a business likely wasn’t worth $1 billion. But the benefits of it being Facebook owned likely are.

Netscape Is Dead (Again)

Netscape is dead, yes again. Yes it’s still AOL.

For quite some time it’s been nothing more than a few extensions and a new skin on Firefox (you can find them here).

Security updates will only be provided until February 1, 2008. So to stay secure, best bet is to plan a migration away from Netscape by then.

Edit [12/28/2007 @ 6:46 PM EST]: TechCrunch has more coverage of the news.

AOL and OpenID

So AOL uses OpenID. What’s pretty cool is that it adds 63 million OpenIDs thanks to AOL’s large user base (according to AOL). They also said:

We don’t yet accept OpenID identities within our products as a relying party, but we’re actively working on it. That roll-out is likely to be gradual.

OpenID is designed so that you can use provider to store your data, and authenticate to any OpenID enabled service using your own provider. The beauty of this is that unlike other unified login schemes, this one doesn’t form some sort of monopoly. I decided to take and see how far they’ve come. AOL’s rather long standing login page (which really hasn’t changed much since the AOL/Netscape authentication merge happened years ago) has finally been updated. The biggest change is the presence of prefs to allow you to choose what method of login you wish to use. I decided to try OpenID, and used mine. The results I guess aren’t so unexpected:

AOL OpenID

Interestingly, Netscape.com does support OpenID just fine.

OpenID is a really sweet system. Hopefully it will take off and do well. Hopefully there won’t be bias as to who accepts who as a provider.

Don’t make browsers, make extensions

There’s been a ton of speculation regarding “gbrowser”, google’s alleged browser, Netscape’s Firefox based browser, now even thoughts Yahoo might be interested. Though I wonder if that really is beneficial to anyone involved?

I’m going to make the bold statement that custom browsers are bad, making extensions are good.

There are several reasons why custom browsers are bad:

  • Casual web surfers don’t always realize “Browser X, and Browser Y are custom versions of Browser A”. They see them all as different products. It’s confusing, especially when websites block them because of their UserAgent. “I’m not using ‘Netscape’, I use ‘Mozilla'”.
  • Anyone who distributes a browser is obligated to maintenance, statistically the vast majority in a project life cycle. Especially in regard to security updates. Get them out quick. It can sometimes involve some extra work, and has minimal benefit for the distributor.
  • Self-competition becomes a factor. One thing that confuses many people about switching to linux is the simple question of “what distro?” This question, and the inability to quickly make a decision turns many people away. Windows and Mac OS have the advantage of making it very easy.
  • Over branding. Yes there is such a thing. You put a brand in someone’s face for too long, and it loses it’s significance and impact. They overlook it. How many people actually notice a McDonalds when driving around? Most don’t even see them, simply because they are more common than traffic lights. Now how many notice less popular dining establishments? Quite a few.
  • Ineffective marketing. When you share 90%+ of the code, you share features with tons of others and really have very little to market. What you do have to advertise, is somewhat insignificant. Why download a new browser for a logo? Is that even a feature? Why can’t I just bookmark your page if I like it?

The Correct Approach
I personally believe the correct approach in this arena is extensions. A great example is the brand new Yahoo Toolbar, or SpeakEasy. Why are these the right way?

  • Both leave security to the Mozilla Foundation, users can get updates as soon as they are released, they don’t have to wait for the distro’s cobranded builds to become available.
  • Users get new features as the product is updated. Don’t need to wait for the distro to update the cobranded builds.
  • Users choose branding, can uninstall it if they wish.
  • Less downloading. I change from speakeasy to yahoo, I don’t need to download a new browser, just install the extension.
  • Cross platform. It’s much less work to support Mac and Linux users when you provide an extension rather than a custom build. Get the whole audience.
  • Lower cost. It’s much less development to release an extension rather than a browser.

What do they lose?
Really nothing. You can do pretty much everything via extensions. You can create a skin, add features, overlay menus, add toolbars etc. etc. There’s quite a few possibilities.

Conclusion
Releasing your own browser, unless you really make radical changes (Camino, Galeon, K-Melon) is somewhat of an ineffective use of resources. You can accomplish the same thing, while providing better service to customers by trying to use an extension framework. Extensions by nature have less development requirements, easier to update, allow the user to have the latest browser, and give the user choice.

I personally think Yahoo and Speakeasy have done an excellent job. They accomplished their goal and really addressed the point I’m trying to make in this post. I just hope some other companies will seriously consider what they are doing, before they try and get their users to install hacked up copies of Firefox.

Extensions and Themes are the best way to customize a browser. If at all possible, try to keep within those frameworks. You’ll thank yourself later when you realize that you need little/no changes to work perfectly with Firefox 1.5 or later.

Netscape Desktop Navigator

As mentioned all around the web, Netscape is creating an ISP. In hopes of turing into an ISP/content based brand Netscape the other day released a beta of it’s Netscape Desktop Navigator program. So I decided to give it a quick wirl….

Overall Impressions

I found it to be quite useful, but not exactly perfect for my needs. For example, I’ll never use it to search the web, but that’s the focal point of the app. Nor will I shop, or look at personals. IMHO they can be removed.

Very useful is the weather features. Weather in the System Tray, and the app itself remembers my zip code. Very nice to have. Another useful feature is the Movie Showtimes. It’s now one click to see where a movie is playing, and what time. Also very convient is maps and white pages. TV guide is somewhat easy, though remembering I have cable, and what network I use would be nice, so I can see all my cable listings right in there.

News was a little disapointing. To little news to make it useful, still find it easier to use google’s news feed, than this app. To brief IMHO.

Also wanted is some customization. Let me remove what I don’t want to have. For example search, I’ll never use it, but it’s valuable space. Wouldn’t mind having more headlines there. Perhaps add sports and stocks? I would love to have those.

Hopefully they keep it ad free.

I’ll keep it on my computer, I find it rather useful. Provided it doesn’t become adware. It’s a smooth little app, that saves me a few clicks, and puts things at my reach. It works rather well.

Would be nicer if it used Gecko and XUL… but then again, this is AOL were talking about. They sold their soul to the devil (quite literally).