Yahoo! buys! bloated! widgets!

Konfabulous - 200MB of dancing Hula girl

hands waving dollar bills in the air

Just when you thought Yahoo! was showing signs that it knew it was doing, comes some news to suggest otherwise.

The competition between Google and Yahoo! has seen each company scrambling to make quality software available for download for little or no cost. And each company has, more often than not, brought home best-of-breed software. Google scored a coup when it bought Keyhole's 3D maps and the photo upload software of Picasa, while Yahoo!'s purchases include X1 for desktop search and the addictive photo community, Flickr.

Now Yahoo! has gone and ruined it, by picking up Konfabulator and the three developers behind the product. Konfabulator is one of several products that allow users to create simple applets using a scripting language, and Apple gave its Mac OS X 10.4 some extra bling by bundling its own widget runtime, called Dashboard, free with the new OS release.

Yahoo! says it's buying the widget environment to entice developers to its portal.

We merely note three facts, from which you can judge the coherence of Yahoo!'s strategy.

Firstly, a number of free alternatives are on the market - Kapsules, Samurize and AveDesk - raising the question of why Yahoo! almost certainly paid more than it had to for a commercial product. In mitigation, Yahoo! may plead that Konfabulator is cross platform, but that can't have been a decisive factor. Yahoo! didn't hesitate to buy a Windows-only product in the shape of X1.

Secondly, Yahoo already has a conduit for developers and users in the shape of its Instant Messenger program - alongside good old fashioned web pages and XML feeds. What does a widget run-time bring to the party? There are some in the Mac community who would rather see Yahoo!'s aging IM client - which hasn't been updated in two years - given some attention, as it now lags far behind the Windows version.

This brings us to the third observation. The Konfabulator acquisition rather spoils the recent run of buying best-of-breed. With just its default set of widgets, Konfabulator sucks out 200MB of memory - memory that users and developers might prefer to be allocated to something else. With these kind of system requirements, it may well deter the very people Yahoo! is trying to attract.

(Yahoo! shunned the venerable DesktopX which allows standalone executables to be created, and standalones don't use any more resources than say, a VB application. Perhaps Yahoo!'s M&A team simply took Konfabulator developer Arlo Rose's claims at face value. Rose likes to think he invented this product category.)

Then there's widget ennui itself. The novelty of playing with clock applets, weather widgets, stock tickers and dancing hula girls soon wears off.

Last month, Yahoo! bought DialPad to speed up its VoIP plans - a month after introducing PC to PC VoIP in a beta of its Windows IM client.

So - a strategy? Possibly. But coherent? We'll get back to you on that one. ®

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