Would you pay $6 billion for this company? Microsoft did.

Sure, Microsoft can afford to wildly pay to buy Aquantive. But will that be enough to close the gap with Google? Steve Ballmer hopes so.

Back from vacation after disconnecting myself from the real world--only to discover that reality is becoming more bizarre than ever.

So it is that Friday's news wires bring word that Microsoft is buying a company called Aquantive for 6 billion--that's right, 6 BILLION--dollars. Congrats to any Aquantive shareholders out there who today are celebrating the 85 percent premium Microsoft agreed to pay. But is it just me or is this price borderline insane?

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer CNET Networks

No doubt Microsoft can afford the price. At last look, it had about $25 billion to spend on any shopping spree. So have at it, fellas.

Yet it was only less than a month ago that a Citigroup analyst doused speculation that Aquantive should command a big premium. So what changed?

What with the stock market at an all-time high, it's tempting to reduce this to bubble-mania. But it also reflects Microsoft's frustration at its inability to slow down Google. What with a $20 billion online advertising market at stake, Steve Ballmer figures it's worth paying a steep price if Aquantive can provide a jump-start.

Will it work? Will it close the gap with Google, which seemingly can do no wrong. Microsoft's not a conglomerate that lets independent entities go their own way. So tomorrow's Aquantive will look a lot different as part of Microsoft's online services division than it did as a standalone company marching to its own tune.

Meanwhile, Google's juggernaut keeps chugging along.

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About the author

Charles Cooper was an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet.

 

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