Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Yang and Ballmer Play Ross and Rachel–And It Is Just as Annoying as the TV Show

Is it just me or does it feel like the whole odd public back- and-forth between Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is beginning to mimic the endless loop of the deeply annoying relationship between Ross Geller and Rachel Green on the long-running NBC television hit, “Friends”?

At least in their star-crossed hijinks, Ross and Rachel smooched from time to time in between the juvenile bickering (“We were on a break!”) and push-me-pull-you antics. And, mercifully for fans of the show, they got together in the very last episode.

But with Yang and Ballmer, it has been only juvenile bickering and push-me-pull-you antics 24/7, which is why BoomTown wishes they would just get a room.

A conference room to negotiate in, of course! (Get your minds out of the gutter!)

Instead, in the latest episode, it was Yang resorting to declaring in front of a ballroom full of Silicon Valley geeks at the Web 2.0 Summit on Wednesday: “To this day, I believe the best thing for Microsoft to do is to buy Yahoo.”

In a quick retort, from Australia of all places and on Yang’s 40th birthday, in fact, Ballmer bestowed this special gift back:

“Look, we made an offer, we made another offer. It was clear that Yahoo didn’t want to sell the business to us, and we moved on…We are not interested in going back and re-looking at an acquisition. I don’t know why they would be either, frankly.”

Shares of Yahoo (YHOO) have tanked almost 14 percent today after that, down $1.86 to $12.10.

Now, this kind of public display of nonaffection is not new for Ballmer, who previously raised and then tanked Yahoo’s stock price only two weeks ago, when he dangled the possibility that Microsoft might be interested in talking to Yahoo about a new search deal.

“There are probably still opportunities around search,” said Ballmer. “I think it would still make sense economically for their shareholders and ours.”

This cloddish phrasing by Ballmer was, no surprise, misconstrued by investors as full-scale interest in Yahoo, requiring a Microsoft (MSFT) spokesman to quickly enter the breach to clarify.

“Our position hasn’t changed. Microsoft has no interest in acquiring Yahoo; there are no discussions between the companies,” he said.

It’s astonishing that this is what passes for corporate behavior on both sides.

Aside from the silliness, because it still does make sense for the pair to be talking and forming some sort of strong relationship.

In my mind, the best idea was always the complex “Traffic Co.” deal that involved Microsoft buying a large piece of Yahoo, adding its lagging MSN assets in and taking over the entire search business of the entity.

As part of that configuration, the digital assets of a media giant like Time Warner (TWX) or News Corp. (NWS), which own AOL and MySpace respectively, could also be added in.

Thus, the “new” Yahoo would focus squarely on content and communications, which it would dominate across the Internet, keeping its display ad business. Meanwhile, Microsoft could then try to really turbocharge the search and search ad business and stop mucking around in arenas it had less talent in.

It’s a lot better than what’s going on right now, which helps neither company, both of which are clearly bumping along with a desperate need for clarity.

And, if they cannot come to some terms, Yahoo has to either move on and fix itself alone or complete its long-running merger talks with AOL or not (this pair is more like Sam and Diane on “Cheers”).

And Microsoft has to stop dithering and finally pick a digital head for its business (more on that next!), a search that is beginning to feel as if Amelia Earhart will be found sooner.

Or, like Ross and Rachel, Yang and Ballmer could just admit finally–despite all their differences over the last year–that they truly are meant for each other and get down to business.