Give Steve Ballmer credit for trying to bail Jerry Yang out of an impossible position. But he'd do better teaming up with Marc Benioff and Salesforce.com.
If you're a Microsoft shareholder, the good news is that Saturday's love letter to Yahoo's board finally starts the clock ticking. Yahoo's got three weeks to come up with a final yes or no answer--and no, Microsoft says, this is its best and final offer. Hopefully, Yahoo's incredibly deluded board will continue to fancy its prospects and tell Microsoft's negotiators to take a hike. At that point, Microsoft can do much, much better for itself by taking a run at Salesforce.com.
Microsoft is working on CRM Live in a bid to go after Salesforce.com, but its still unclear how its services push will do. In the meantime, Benioff's cleaning up and having a one great time mocking Microsoft's inability to turn "software-plus-services" into a winner. (Check out the recent interview News.com's Dan Farber and I did with Benioff.)
But this is all the usual window-dressing. Microsoft's ready to pay $44 billion and change--and that's still one helluva lot of change--to buy Yahoo. So if Ballmer came up with a serious offer, Benioff and the Salesforce.com board would take it in a heartbeat. The combination would bring together two companies whose similar enterprise DNA would mesh a lot better than would a kludge like "Microhoo." There's been a ton of discussion about the difficulty making a Microsoft-Yahoo pairing work. Do you really believe Yahoo's Greta Garbo act is going to make any post-merger transition smoother?
The Salesforce.com scenario's a lot cleaner. Benioff's company is developing a next-generation platform, similar in some ways to what Microsoft did with Windows except in the cloud. The similarity is in bringing thousands or millions of developers into the tent to build applications that require a subscription or license to the platform. It prints money, and in the case of Salesforce.com takes a lot of the 20th century drudgery out of the development process. Salesforce.com is based on Java and Oracle, but customers don't care whether its .NET or Java as long as it works.
In addition, Microsoft would still have money left over to invest in beefing up its search business. Microsoft's Google obsession shouldn't obscure the fact that there's huge potential revenue within grasp if management can turn its software services into a success.
If Jerry Yang & Co. want to screw this one up, Microsoft should avoid future headaches and simply wish them well.