So Yahoo and Microsoft walk into a bar and -- wait, you've heard this one?

Just when you thought it was dead and buried, the Microsoft/Yahoo soap opera returns. Will these two aging paramours ever hook up?

A sufficient period of mourning has passed, and now the relentless suitor once again approaches the object of its affections.

I am speaking, of course, of Microsoft's Steve Ballmer and Yahoo's newish CEO, Carol Bartz, who met last week to discuss -- well, not marriage, exactly, but a kind of friendship with benefits.

Per the New York Times:

The discussions are in early stages and may not lead to any agreement... They have centered on ways for the companies to pool their advertising efforts, including a possible partnership under which Microsoft would sell search ads for Yahoo, and Yahoo, in turn, would sell display ads on Microsoft properties, this person said.

It sounds like the classic "I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine, and later on we'll sneak into Google's bedroom and hold a pillow over its face until it stops struggling" kind of deals. Except, of course, they don't make pillows that big.

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I suspect Ballmer has been waiting for Bartz to get her head around just how huge a threat Google is to their online revenue streams so she'd be more receptive to his oily charms. At least one Wall Street analyst estimates the deal could put from $250 million to $450 million in Yahoo's pockets -- which would be significantly more enticing than that diamond brooch Ballmer slipped into Bartz's dessert.

And so it goes, the endless dance between two aging giants, like the high school quarterback and the homecoming queen who finally manage to hook up at their 30-year reunion. I get the feeling I'll be writing about this right up until the moment I retire or go insane, whichever comes first. (I'm betting on the latter. You?)

The whole Microsoft/Yahoo affair reminds me of a slightly risque joke:

A shy young prince and a beautiful virgin princess are wed in an arranged marriage. The king, worried the pair would not consummate their union, dispatched a page to spy on their wedding night. The next day the page returned to the King to deliver his report.

"Well?" the King demanded.

"The princess began by saying, 'Sir, I offer you my honor.'"

"Good," said the King. "Then?"

"The prince replied, 'Madame, I honor your offer'."

"That's it?" said the King.

"Yes, your highness. That's how it went all night. Honor, offer, honor, offer."

Will Bartz offer her honor to Ballmer? (I'm not trying hard to not picture that scenario in my brain.) Can a Yahoo-Microsoft hookup do anything to derail the Google Express? Tune in next week (and the week after that, and so on) and we might yet find out.

So let's just say Google just owns the Net advertising market, lock, stock, and barrel. Is there anything wrong with that? Post your thoughts below or e-mail me:

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