On fifth thought, maybe Microsoft is interested in Yahoo's search

So which is it? Last week, the candle in Carl Icahn's window appeared lit, while Steve Ballmer's was snuffed out. This week, after Icahn put out his candle publicly on nationwide TV, Ballmer appears to have lit his again.

In an exchange of semi-counter-proposals that has seen more flip-flops than a 2004 Republican campaign rally, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer made it clear this morning through his mouthpiece of choice, The Wall Street Journal, that his company may be interested after all in a deal with the search engine component of Yahoo.

The comment comes a few days after investor Carl Icahn, who at one time was seen to be the man who could finally put a Microsoft + Yahoo deal together, told CNBC he was against any sale of a portion of Yahoo to anyone at all. Icahn specifically cited AOL as one example, though Microsoft was presumably a member of "anyone." As his reason, Icahn said he believed Yahoo's shares were currently undervalued.

Icahn did say he had discussed, or had been open, to a discussion with Microsoft with regards to a search partnership, not an acquisition. However, he added that Yahoo board members had not opened such a discussion.

In terms of Yahoo's braintrust, which includes both its search algorithms and its audience reaching technology, Microsoft may already have acquired it -- or at least its principal incubator. Dr. Qi Lu was officially appointed Microsoft's new President of Online Services last week. In April 2006, Dr. Lu had been appointed Yahoo's senior vice president for engineering for search technologies.

The WSJ cited "people familiar with the matter" as saying not only that Yahoo's board has not determined whether to pursue such a deal, but added that Icahn has actually endorsed it. That would contradict Icahn's public comments on CNBC last Wednesday, assuming that Ballmer -- as the WSJ article indicates -- was referring to an acquisition as opposed to a partnership.

But the WSJ's cited quote from Ballmer actually does not refer to an acquisition, just a "deal." "I think good ideas are usually better done quickly than slowly, so it would probably be better for both of us, and certainly for Yahoo, if we were to do it sooner than later," the quote reads.

The see-saw effect, which may very well be a product of the way the press has appeared to exaggerate comments from both sides of the aisle, makes one ask whether at this point, there actually is anyone familiar with the matter.

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