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Google's $14.2 Billion Question

Last week, I offered some ideas for what Apple should do with its $18.4 billion in cash and investments. You said that of all the companies Apple could buy with that capital, Adobe would be the best fit.

Today, it's Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) turn. DoubleGoo could use its $14.2 billion treasure trove to acquire hundreds of start-ups. And Silicon Valley knows it, too. BusinessWeek in 2005 ran a story about venture capitalists chasing "Google Gold" -- code-speak for funding companies that the Big G might be compelled to buy.

Whether that strategy works is a matter of debate. Certainly it did for the camera crew behind YouTube. But BusinessWeek also reports that, in many other cases, Google is willing to sub for VCs by employing professionals whose job it is to invest as little as $500,000 in promising start-ups.

I think you can do better than that, guys. Larry, Sergey, Eric -- here are my three best acquisition ideas.

ValueClick (Nasdaq: VCLK  )
Not my favorite idea, but hardly a bad one, since the entire company can be had for $1.7 billion. Besides, having its ad inventory might seriously blunt the effectiveness of a Microsoft merger with Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO  ) .

Trouble is, there are two big problems with a deal for ValueClick. First, the feds. Regulators took a close look at Google's deal for DoubleClick before ultimately approving it over Mr. Softy's objections. Why would they consent to a deal that could further squash competition?

Second, the feds have pursued ValueClick for deceptive marketing practices -- which you'd think would run contrary to that whole "do no evil" culture thing. The company reached a $2.9 million settlement earlier this year, but still.

Clearwire (Nasdaq: CLWR  )
An oddball choice, to be sure. Or is it? We could argue whether Google's $4.6 billion bid for unlicensed spectrum was, indeed, a red herring. But if it wasn't -- if Google really does have an interest in enabling the last mile to its network -- then Clearwire would be a natural target.

Consider the price. As of today, Clearwire can be had for $2.6 billion, including assumed debt, which Google could wipe out with a single check. And what about the assets it gets for that price? Reports say that Clearwire has the second greatest amount of available spectrum for the delivery of wireless data -- second only to off-and-on-again partner Sprint (NYSE: S  ) .

Finally, let's not forget that Google and Clearwire already have a relationship. Expanding it shouldn't be all that difficult.

Akamai Technologies (Nasdaq: AKAM  )
I know, I know, I also said Apple should acquire Akamai. I still see that as a good strategic move because of iTunes. But Google may be an even better fit for my favorite Rule Breaker, because of where Big G appears headed with its App Engine initiative.

To me, this strongly signals Google's intent to become a global supplier of computing power. The Windows of the Web, if you will. Developers would code their work to run of DoubleGoo's platform, rent the needed processing power, and earn revenue from the results. Think of it as a cheaper, faster way to create the next (NYSE: CRM  ) .

Realizing this vision would be no simple task, of course. Especially since and EMC have both employed similar models. I suspect that acquiring prebuilt networks would give Google a needed edge. Few are more seasoned than Akamai's, which, like Google's, is global (146 countries), massive (more than 30,000 servers), and tuned for on-demand software.

But those are only three ideas. Surely, many more exist. Have one or two of your own, and want a shot at being made famous in these digital pages? Tell me. I'll write about the best reader entries next week.

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