Thursday, May 21, 2009

Yahoo Inc is looking to buy companies that will allow it to become a bigger player in social networking and revamp its family of products, Chief Technology Officer Ari Balogh said on Wednesday.

"It's a good time to be buying now," he told the Reuters Global Technology Summit, pointing to valuations that have come down from levels six to nine months ago. While declining to give specific names, Balogh said Yahoo has had conversations with companies about partnerships and "more interesting" possibilities, such as on building out its platform and basic computing in addition to search.

"I can guarantee you there will be some acquisitions, and we will do some stuff in-house," Balogh, who is executive vice president of products at Yahoo, said by videolink.

Yahoo will introduce new products this fall that will give users a more unified experience across its network of websites and showcase the company's strategy to grow again, after much of 2008 was marred by the failed deal talks with Microsoft Corp.

Yahoo is striving to revive its fortunes as sales decline because of the recession and competition from other Web heavyweights, including Google Inc and Facebook. While conceding that Google has "won the game" of search as we know it today, Balogh says search will be about much more than "10 blue links" in the future. "The thing I will tell you is that, core to great experiences for people online may not necessarily be this version of search," Balogh said. "I believe search is going to be far richer...there's a whole other round or two to go in the search game and that's where we intend on playing.

The future of Yahoo's Internet search business is a big question for investors. Yahoo Chief Executive Carol Bartz and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer have talked about partnering on search, according to a source familiar with the matter. Balogh said any decision about a search deal was up to Bartz and Yahoo's board. But he said that whatever happens, Yahoo will continue to invest in its own search capabilities. Balogh said search technology is a vital part of the consumer experience that Yahoo delivers, "and having leading edge scientists and technologists who understand search technology and where search is going is critical to Yahoo."

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Dell launches its first "netbook" designed for young students at a time when adult consumers and businesses have cut back on technology spending.

Dell's new Latitude 2100, which is being unveiled today in Sydney, is part of a newly popular category of computer that's much like a laptop, but cheaper, smaller, lighter and less powerful.

Unlike Dell's other netbooks, the 2100's shell is made from brightly coloured, easily gripped rubber, not slippery plastic. Its underside is free from vents and other openings, so plopping the computer on spilled milk won't do any damage. And a light on the lid of the computer tells teachers when kids are connected to the internet.

The extent to which laptops improve academic performance remains debatable, but Dell Chief Executive Michael Dell, perhaps not surprisingly, argues that computers in classrooms are a key ingredient to better schooling.

"There's no question that technology can play a role in improving outcomes for students," Michael Dell said in an interview. "This is not to say that putting computers and (information technology) systems in schools solves all problems - there's no chance of that. But it is to say that, look, these are required skills that people need to be successful."

The 2100, aimed at students in kindergarten through eighth grade, has a 10-inch screen and a keyboard that's a little bigger than regular netbooks.

It can be configured with a touch screen, which Dell says is useful for kids' small hands, and an anti-microbial keyboard, because those hands are often grubby. A web camera add-on is also available. It can run basic versions of Microsoft's Windows XP and Vista operating systems and the Ubuntu version of Linux.

Unlike the still-mythical "$100 laptop" envisioned by the nonprofit One Laptop Per Child organisation, Dell's machine starts at $706 and includes 1GB of RAM, 80GB HDD and runs on the Ubuntu operating system. It goes on sale tomorrow through Dell's online store.

Dell would not say how much money it makes selling computers to schools. Michael Dell said the company's public sector segment, which also includes governments and health care institutions, takes in $US14 billion a year, about 23 per cent of Dell's 2008 revenue.

PCs for schools and universities made up just 6 per cent of the total shipped last year worldwide, according to IDC, with about a third going to theUS. Worldwide, Dell was the top player with nearly 20 per cent of the market.

In the US., its grip was even tighter - about 36 per cent for kindergarten through 12th grade and 43 percent at the university level.

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