Microsoft's $41 billion (£20.9 billion) takeover bid for struggling internet pioneer Yahoo appears to have backed the company into a corner - leaving it with the unpleasant choice of selling to a detested rival or pursuing other agonising alternatives likely to require the help of an even fiercer foe, Google.
At least that appeared to be the consensus emerging among analysts as Wall Street awaited Yahoo's response to last week's unsolicited offer from Microsoft.
Yahoo says its board is going to take its time reviewing Microsoft's bid along with other options that could keep the company independent.
"At the end of the day, I don't think they are going to be able to turn down Micro-soft," predicted technology investment banker Peter Falvey of Revolution Partners, echoing a widely held sentiment.
But if Yahoo spurns Microsoft, analysts believe it probably will have to swallow its pride and forge an advertising partnership with Google if the alliance could win anti-trust clearance.
Under this scenario, Yahoo would rely on Google to run its search engine while joining thousands of other web sites that depend on the internet search leader for a steady stream of ad revenue generated from text-based links that produce commissions with every click.
But getting Google's advertising help probably wouldn't be enough to trump Microsoft's offer by itself. To placate shareholders, Yahoo probably would have to line up enough money to pay a special dividend or perhaps even take the company private in a leveraged buyout.
Going private might be even more painful for Yahoo's 14,300 employees than a sale to Microsoft.
To help repay the more than $20 billion (£10.2 billion) debt that would be incurred in a leveraged buyout, Yahoo would have to fire about 4,500 employees, or 31 per cent of its workforce, Stifel Nicolaus analyst George Askew estimated.
Yahoo also probably would have to sell about $12.5 billion (£6.37 billion) worth of investments in several promising internet companies, including Alibaba.com and Yahoo Japan.
Like most analysts, Mr Askew still believes Yahoo will wind up in Microsoft's clutches because the world's largest software maker appears to be a determined bidder with more financial firepower than just about every other conceivable suitor.
The list of so-called "white knights" willing to come to Yahoo's rescue appears to be dwindling. Several of the most logical candidates, including News Corporation, AT&T and Comcast reportedly have no interest in trying to top Microsoft's bid.
Should Yahoo resist, Microsoft could still turn up the pressure by drawing upon its $21 billion (£10.71 billion) in cash and lofty market value of $285 billion (£145.4 billion) to raise the bid.
Despite its vast resources, Microsoft expects to finance part of the Yahoo takeover with debt, said the company's chief financial officer, Chris Liddell. It will mark the first time that Microsoft has had to borrow money to finance an acquisition.
Merrill Lynch analyst Justin Post believes Yahoo should dangle the prospect of a Google partnership to persuade Microsoft to raise its bid and then accept the higher offer.
While a Google partnership could boost Yahoo's revenue by $500 million to $600 million (£255.1 million to £306.1 million) annually, Mr Post said Yahoo's brand would be better off with Microsoft. "It seems to us Google has its, not Yahoo's, best interests in mind," Mr Post said.
Google already is attacking Microsoft's proposed takeover as a bad deal for consumers, arguing it could limit choice on the internet.
Microsoft contends consumers and advertisers would be better off if it buys Yahoo because the combined company would pose a more formidable threat to Google's huge advantage in the internet search and advertising markets.
Google chief executive Eric Schmidt reportedly has already contacted his Yahoo counterpart, Jerry Yang, to broach the possibility of an ad partnership - an alliance that some analysts had been advocating even before Microsoft made its bid.
Turning over search and a big chunk of advertising would be a humbling step for Yahoo. The company has invested more than $2 billion (£1.02 billion) to develop its own search technology and adjoining advertising system during the past five years in a largely fruitless attempt to catch Google, whose success is one of the reasons that Yahoo's profits have declined for five straight quarters.
Yahoo gave Google one of its first big breaks in 2000 when it hired the company to power its search engine. That partnership, which ended in 2004, didn't involve selling ads on Yahoo's site.
Even if Yahoo decided to work with Google again, the partnership probably would face a tough competition review, given that the two companies together control nearly 80 per cent of the US search market.
Microsoft, with just an eight per cent share of the US search market, almost certainly protest if Google took over Yahoo's search engine, just as Google is already pushing regulators to take a hard look at Microsoft's takeover plans.
Google almost certainly can't try to buy Yahoo outright, but it might be able to make a small investment like the five per cent stake that it bought in Time Warner's AOL for $1 billion (£510.2 million) in 2005.
Yahoo's board conceivably could even turn down Microsoft on the grounds that the current offer grossly undervalues the company. If Yahoo assumes that stance, it might provoke a showdown at its annual meeting in a few months.
Microsoft has until March 13 to nominate its own slate of directors if it tries to seize control of Yahoo's board.
Yahoo also possesses an anti-takeover provision, known as a "poison pill," that could be used to issue millions of new shares to make an acquisition prohibitively expensive. Triggering the poison pill almost certainly would infuriate already testy shareholders.
"I suspect this is going to be taken directly to Yahoo shareholders," Standard & Poor's equity analyst Scott Kessler predicted. "And those shareholders are very disappointed with management's execution and the company's financial performance."