If Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) can't buy Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) outright, maybe it can just hire the rival's executive team, one by one. "Hostile takeover" sounds so aggressive -- let's call this a "social takeover" instead.

After a decade at Yahoo!, where he ended up running the search and advertising technology group, as well as a short but productive stint as an IBM (NYSE:IBM) researcher, Qi Lu jumps ship to join Mr. Softy. The man may be best known as the chief architect for Yahoo!'s much-vaunted Panama advertising platform, but that's not all he brings to the table.

Lu's work and self-effacing work ethic made him a "rock star" in the Yahoo! ethos. He left a deep imprint on important services like Yahoo! Maps and Local, and he was instrumental to the acquisition of social bookmarking site Del.icio.us and photo-hosting leader Flickr. Dr. Lu has been granted 20 patents in fields as diverse as music search by examples, gaze-based secure keypads, and 3-D user interfaces. Cool stuff all around.

In short, he's smart and humble, and he has the technical skills to impress Redmond's engineers, combined with the human touch that made him a success in Southern California.

If Microsoft really is serious about just snagging the best and the brightest from Yahoo! without a multibillion-dollar deal, it just got started on exactly the right foot. Lu is highly qualified for his new job as president of the Online Services Group, and he's the type of talent who could very well inspire other top techies to join the cause.

Steve Ballmer and his Redmond cohorts don't get the Yahoo! brand name or its massive user base this way, but Lu's addition is an instant upgrade and a good start. Hey, even Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) was built from the ground up, starting as a small team with bright ideas. This is one step forward in giving me reasons to believe that Microsoft stands a chance to survive in the e-commerce sector.

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