It's no secret that Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ) is lusting for a wider portfolio of enterprise software. New CEO Leo Apotheker built a career on exactly that platform as chief of SAP (NYSE: SAP), after all, and HP would love nothing more than stealing business from software expert Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL).

So it's no surprise to see HP casting bedroom eyes at TIBCO Software (Nasdaq: TIBX), that real-time transaction handler that is stealing market share from Oracle and IBM (NYSE: IBM) quarter by quarter. Reuters found two anonymous sources who agreed that buyout talks have been happening but "fizzled" about two weeks ago.

TIBCO's PR staff, who tend to be pretty open with me, declined to comment since they are "unable to talk at this time." That says just a sliver more than a curt "no comment," and seems like a tacit confirmation that there's something going on behind the scenes.

Even a small step in the direction of a buyout would be a rather dramatic change for TIBCO, which historically prides itself on its vendor-neutral status. As the metaphorical Switzerland of the data center, TIBCO's software is often the glue that keeps software from various vendors -- or in-house applications -- talking to each other. If CEO Vivek Ranadive is willing to at least talk mergers now, regardless of the final outcome, then the company would be aiming for a bigger role than that, either alone or as part of a larger organization. If HP backed down or was turned away, some other giant of Silicon Valley could pick TIBCO up later.

As for HP's software ambitions, it's hard to find another potential buyout target that is quite the thorn in Oracle's side that TIBCO is. Salesforce.com (NYSE: CRM) comes close but carries a hefty price tag; Linux vendor Red Hat (NYSE: RHT) would be cheaper and a more oblique attack on Oracle, but that deal would also jeopardize HP's already-shaky relations with that important software giant from the Pacific Northwest.

I have no doubt that HP will open its checkbook for an enterprise software vendor of some sort, but it's hard to say exactly which way Apotheker will lean. As for TIBCO, I suppose I can start asking Vivek about buyout talks again -- it's no longer out of the question.

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