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An 800-Pound Partnership

AOL and Microsoft are discussing a possible joint venture online. Possible options include merging MSN with AOL, combining advertising sales forces, and making the separate IM services interoperable. Other options loom large in the imagination.

More than 10 years ago, AOL rebuffed a buy offer from Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, while AOL's Netscape was instrumental in inspiring the antitrust action taken against Microsoft just earlier this decade. So why is Microsoft interested in AOL now? Perhaps because... it's not flying as high as it once was? Is this Google fear, manifested?

Regardless of the companies' motivations, the partnership raises several intriguing issues. Many of us know how challenging it can be to work with an 800-pound partner — one everyone wants to align with, which doesn't really need to work with you, and ends up driving the deal. What happens when both partners are corporate behemoths and used to having their own way? What needs to happen for this to work well?