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Microsoft eyes AOL takeover

But is it for real?

Microhoo Time Warner is still trying to flog AOL to either Yahoo! or Microsoft in the event that their on-off merger talks ending completely.

Microsoft met Time Warner yesterday to discuss a possible merger of the two companies' online business, the WSJ reports.

The paper suggest the talks are getting serious before Yahoo!'s general meeting on 1 August, when Microsoft's attempt to take over the company could come to ahead. Shares in all three companies rose yesterday on the back of the report.

But analysts question the likelihood of any AOL sale to Microsoft before August 1. And for Microsoft the big prize remains Yahoo!'s search business, so it can fight Google more effectively, Jay Welles, an analyst at Manning & Napier Advisors, told Bloomberg.

AOL is left without an obvious buyer, if Microsoft succeeds in taking over Yahoo! But if Yahoo! sold its search business only to Microsoft then maybe buying AOL's portal, audience and advertising network would make sense.

Similarly, if Microsoft failed to buy Yahoo! then adding AOL's audience and increasing the market share of LiveSearch and MSN could be sensible.

Of course it could just be that Microsoft is talking to AOL to keep Yahoo!, or at least the company's nemesis, the billionaire greenmailer Carl Icahn, on their toes.

It emerged this month that Time Warner was talking to Yahoo! but this seemed like a defensive measure by Yahoo! boss Jerry Yang - he badly needs some good news to take to shareholders at the August meeting.

AOL bought Time Warner for $160bn at the height of the last bubble. The aim was to create a media behemoth with sizeable interests in film, TV, radio and online. But the company has never felt the benefits of that supposed integration and has been looking for a way to get rid of AOL for some time.

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