A Microsoft-Yahoo! Deal User's Guide

Will the proposed $44.6 billion buyout be a marriage of dunces or the birth of a Net overlord? Either way, a new, ad-centered era is booting up

From left: Ballmer: Nancy Kaszerman / ZUMA; Yang: Paul Sakuma / AP

When Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer couldn't coax Yahoo! boss Jerry Yang into a deal, he went hostile. But smooshing together MSN and Yahoo! would be difficult. What would their mutant love child look like?

Don't panic. Above all, remain calm. Or if you are already calm--in fact, I see a few of you dozing in the back row there--then wake up! An enormous convulsion is taking place in the Internet economy. Microsoft, the world's largest software company, wants to buy Yahoo!, which is (in its own words) "the world's largest global online network of integrated services," whatever that means, for $44.6 billion. Yahoo! is resisting. It's a complex, many-sided deal with repercussions in all directions. What does it mean for you? How will the world be different? Will your oxygen mask deploy in case of...

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