Bill Gates Meets Auntie Beeb

Perhaps I'm just wired crazy, but when Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) and the BBC on Thursday signed a deal to bring Web 2.0 technologies to the British network's website, all I could think of was Fawlty Towers, the slapstick '70s British sitcom starring John Cleese.

Blame the nicknames: Mr. Softy and Auntie Beeb. I mean, seriously, doesn't that just beg for comedy? Dialogue would be so easy to come by:

Auntie Beeb: "What's that you're carrying, Mr. Softy?"

Mr. Softy: "Why, it's a suite of Web 2.0 software, Auntie Beeb."

Auntie Beeb: "Web 2.0 software! Brilliant!"

Mr. Softy: "Brilliant!"

Yeah, OK, you're right: I've got no future as a sitcom screenwriter, especially if all I've got is a few stolen lines from a Guinness commercial. Still, I love that title.

Many others won't, including RealNetworks (Nasdaq: RNWK  ) . Right now, if you want to listen to the London Symphony on BBC Radio 3, you'll need RealPlayer. How much do you want to bet that Windows Media Player will be an option before long?

Expect Mr. Softy to push for that, as well as broad adoption of its Windows Live online applications, which are the centerpiece of Microsoft's Web 2.0 strategy. Consider Live's Spaces, which initially was built to emulate Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) Blogger. Today, Spaces allows community members to create tiny personalized applications a la Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) Widgets for Mac OS X. Think of BBC browsers creating gadget-filled blogs populated by handcrafted links from Auntie Beeb's stories, and you'll have an idea of Mr. Softy's ambitions.

And for good reason: Web traffic researcher Alexa says that the BBC had the 13th most popular English-language site in the world during July, and the 23rd most popular site overall. Think of how many billions of websites there are, then read those last two sentences again.

That remarkable footprint will surely aid global adoption of Web 2.0 technology, which, unlike that of first-generation websites, aggregates content from many sources, includes heavy doses of community, and thrives on network effects. Imagine how much Mr. Softy would benefit if his courting resulted in a monogamous relationship with Auntie Beeb. Virtually overnight, Microsoft (with its already popular MSN.com and Live.com sites -- Nos. 2 and 9, respectively, in the Alexa list) could become the world's leading Web 2.0 platform.

But that's probably wishful thinking. BBC Director General Mark Thompson limited the agency's engagement with Microsoft to a non-exclusive memorandum of understanding, which proves the old Auntie still has it where it counts. What's more, Forbes reports that Thompson's U.S. fact-finding mission will feature several other potential suitors, including IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) , RealNetworks, and Second Life game creator Linden Laboratories.

So, good luck, Mr. Softy. You've taken an important first step. But if you really want to be Auntie Beeb's consort, you'd better bring more than Windows Live. My wife suggests flowers, chocolate, and tea. I'd listen to her.

What's that, Auntie Beeb? Related Foolishness? Brilliant!

Microsoft is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. Ask us for an all-access pass to the service and you'll be privy to chief advisor Philip Durell's best picks, which collectively are beating the market by more than 5%. You'll also receive instructive lessons on valuation and company analysis. Give Inside Value a try; it's free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers owns LEAP options in Apple and a new MacBook Pro, which he occasionally uses to run Windows. You can find out what else is in his portfolio by checking Tim's Fool profile. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy is upper class.


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