"Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss"
-- "Won't Get Fooled Again," The Who

Who replaced Carol Bartz with Jerry Yang?

The new Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) CEO is starting to repeat a few of Yang's final acts as the company's clumsy chieftain. According to The New York Times:

  • Yahoo! could announce another round of layoffs as early as next week's earnings report.
  • Bartz is in talks with Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), presumably over Yahoo!'s paid-search business.

Didn't we live through this when Yang was calling the misfired shots?

Let's break this all down -- and quickly, because executives are seemingly bolting under Bartz at the same frenzied pace they fled Yang's reign.

If Yahoo! is planning on rolling out the ol' pink-slip guillotine heading into Tuesday's earnings report, it probably means that this quarter will be another stinker. You can't blame Bartz for that -- she just arrived. She has to react to the reality, but eventually, we'll want to see her be proactive instead of reactive.

There is certainly room for tightening at any company, but how shipshape can morale be at the Web portal if Yahoo! gets rocked by one layoff wave after another?

You're supposed to rip off the bandage in one swift tug -- but what if it's all just one big bandage? Boy, do I miss the days when Yahoo! was more worried about growing its top line than preserving its bottom line.

Bartz and Ballmer, sitting in a tree
When investors compare tomorrow's quarterly report from Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) with Yahoo!'s financials come Tuesday, expect more of the same envy that Jan Brady harbored for older sister Marcia.

Google is expected to post modest gains in revenue and earnings, while Wall Street predicts Yahoo! will go the other way. This would normally lead to the quarterly outcry for Yahoo! to shack up with Microsoft, but not this time. Thankfully, it seems that Bartz isn't in nonsensical discussions to sell off Yahoo!'s search business. According to The New York Times, the deal involves a more rudimentary ad partnership.

That deal doesn't ad up
I hope Bartz realizes that she has the upper hand when it comes to paid-search negotiations. There's no way that Microsoft can bring a thicker client list to the bargaining table when Yahoo! commands the larger slice of the search market. Microsoft's been a perpetual money bleeder in cyberspace, so it's not as if it brings good judgment to the partnership, either.

When Yahoo! acquired Overture, it inherited the legacy of that paid-search pioneer. Google went on to spank Yahoo! silly in that particular market, but Yahoo! still clings to the silver medal here. That makes it critical for Yahoo! to remember that however much Jan Brady may envy Marcia, she's still got it much better than little Cindy.

During any paid-search talks, Yahoo! cannot relinquish control of its space. Microsoft will want to wallpaper Yahoo!'s search query result pages with its brokered ads, and it will offer to pay dearly for that right.

Yahoo! must weigh the ramifications of such a deal. If it yields that kind ad space to Microsoft, it may as well just shift into park in the pit as Microsoft, Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) AOL, and IAC's (NASDAQ:IACI) Ask.com pass it by. That's true even if Yahoo! commands a chunkier piece of the market than all of the non-Googles combined.

Microsoft should be the hungrier party that this particular table. Like Yahoo!, Microsoft is expected to post declines on the top and bottom lines for its latest quarter. Microsoft's relevance will also be tested in its software stronghold, forcing the company to take bolder steps in its deficit-riddled online endeavors to sway shareholders.

The folks from Redmond will have to offer more in compensation than just the money -- and positioning -- that Yahoo! will forgo if it surrenders a single inch of its turf.

Still waiting
Next week's conference call will be huge for Bartz. She has to remind analysts that Yahoo! may have missed out on dynamic properties like YouTube, Facebook, and News Corp.'s (NYSE:NWS) MySpace in the past, but that it still made the right call in snapping up Flickr, as well as accumulating sizable stakes in Yahoo! Japan, China's Alibaba, and South Korea's Gmarket (NASDAQ:GMKT) to matter abroad.

She'll probably discuss uninspiring results on Tuesday, but she can't complain about being in Google's shadow. She may also cover Yahoo!'s push to go back to the basics, but what's the point? That place no longer exists in this ever-changing world.

I want confidence. I want morale-inflating optimism. I want Bartz to punk Microsoft, unless there's a sensible deal that is too good to refuse. I'll admit I want a lot. But when you've had so much taken away, even a little sounds like a lot.

Yahoo! hits the snooze bar:

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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is a fan of Yahoo! and Microsoft, but not of bad weddings. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story. Rick is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.