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Microsoft Pri0

Welcome to Microsoft Pri0: That's Microspeak for top priority, and that's the news and observations you'll find here from Seattle Times reporter Sharon Chan.

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July 2, 2008 9:21 AM

WSJ: In secret meeting, Microsoft told Yahoo execs to look for the woman with the red umbrella

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

The Wall Street Journal is out today with a major rehash of the Microsoft-Yahoo acquisition saga that includes some great corporate cloak-and-dagger details from the last five months. The news, however, is that Microsoft has been making another round of calls to the usual suspects -- Time Warner's AOL unit and News Corp. -- to find partners for a Yahoo bust-up deal.

The sources, as usual, are anonymous, and high up in the front-page story is the caution that any talks with Time Warner and News Corp. are preliminary and "unlikely to result in a deal with Yahoo."

The rest of the story paints an incrementally more detailed picture of the botched negotiations between the two corporate giants. From the Journal's reporting, it appears as if the two sides actually were on the same page on price -- $33 to $34 a share -- but at different times.

I loved this description of the tactics Microsoft employed to keep a lid on an April 15 meeting at the law offices of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Preston Gates Ellis in Portland: "It instructed Mr. Yang and his coterie of advisers to drive to the back of the building, where a woman holding a closed red umbrella would be waiting for them at the loading dock."

Another bit of color: Yahoo co-founders Jerry Yang and David Filo were encouraged when they met with Ballmer in a Seattle airport conference room (nobody has reported yet whether it was SeaTac or Boeing Field) on May 2. Ballmer was sporting a purple polo shirt, the Journal reported, Yahoo's color. Despite a day of talks in the conference room and on Yang's plane, the sides couldn't agree on a price and Ballmer pulled the deal.

Another passage in the Journal that caught my eye: "Two weeks ago" -- that would be June 18 -- "Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer called Yahoo Chairman Roy Bostock to suggest they meet to discuss a new idea involving other partners, according to a person familiar with the matter."

I met with Ballmer on June 18 for an interview about Bill Gates' transition, among other things. I caught a glimpse of him inside his office suite before I was seated in a conference room to wait. He looked intense, as usual, and was holding a golf club as he gave my PR escort a clear signal that now was not the time to come in. Our meeting started about 25 minutes late. Ballmer was apologetic and polite when he finally came in to the meeting and explained, "I just had something I couldn't ..."

Of course, he's a busy guy. The delay could have been anything.

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