Sun goes down: Was that IBM's plan?

With the takeover negotiations that neither IBM nor Sun would confirm nor deny having broken down (or not) over the weekend, over a final price that IBM may or may not have offered that could have been too low ($9.40 per share, but that's just everybody making the same guess simultaneously), Sun Microsystems is now being perceived -- and this much we do know -- as a company with less strategic direction than it appeared to have three weeks earlier.

One wonders whether that was the idea to begin with. Last year's captivating semi-negotiations between Microsoft and Yahoo used the press as liaison between the two parties, as a way of maintaining plausible deniability that either party was speaking to one another -- or at least, speaking seriously. The result of that escapade was a Yahoo that, for a time, resembled the residue of a late-night cooking knife informercial, which put Microsoft in a stronger position to build a comeback strategy for its online services.

A staggering amount of detail surrounding last weekend's semi-negotiations between Sun and IBM was recapped to the last detail this morning by Bloomberg. Reporters Guglielmo and Hoffman even give names to the attorneys who may or may not have been involved, and present a scroll full of names of executives who may not have met with one another or exchanged e-mails, all of whom declined comment...for the record. The amount of activity, right down to quoting bid and asked prices for non-existent trade negotiations, suggests that the press was commandeered to serve as message boys for two industry giants that were either too proud, or too unskilled, to conduct real negotiations behind closed doors like genuine businesspeople.

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But in the end, Sun looks similarly "ginsu-ed," which may have been IBM's idea all along. This morning, adding to its long list of denials of rumors and speculation, Sun told the AP and Reuters -- for reasons apparently having to do with nothing more than feelings -- that it stands behind its executive leadership team led by CEO Jonathan Schwartz. Just the echo of the act of standing up for Jerry Yang puts Sun in a new column this morning. Unless, of course, this is all a dream.

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