Nokia denial of Microsoft buy-out a double bluff?

Ever since Stephen Elop jumped ship from world-conquering software monopolist Microsoft in order to head for beleaguered Finnish mobile maker Nokia, rumours of take-overs and buy-outs have been rife.

One-time rubber boot-maker Nokia once ruled the mobile roost, and still holds a fair chunk of the low-end mobile market, but was caught napping by the inexorable march of the smartphone in general and the iPhone in particular.

Apple's dominance of the market created a rash of iPhone wannabes and, even today, the Apple handset's legacy can be seen reflected in slabs of touch-screen technology rolled out by the likes of HTC and Samsung. But one company was conspicuous by its absence from the queue of tech company's waiting in the wings to usurp Apple's crown.

Nokia seemed content to rest on its laurels as the world's biggest supplier of dumb-phones, perhaps believing that all this smart-phone nonsense was nothing more than a passing fad, and that people would return to the fold of simple phones with simple operating systems and easy-to-find buttons once all the fuss had died down.

Then Android came along and gave Nokia's Symbian OS a kick in the code from which it will probably never recover in any meaningful way.

In February this year a leaked memo from Microsoft insurgent Stephen Elop, now firmly enthroned as Nokia's CEO, suggested that Symbian was a 'burning platform' which, left unchecked, could set the whole company aflame.

Rumours started flying that Nokia would go cap-in-hand to a third-party platform, with Google's already established Android OS being the logical choice to anyone but Elop, who was starting to look increasingly like he was disassembling Nokia's mobile division from the inside for the benefit of his former paymaster, Microsoft.

At the time, Windows Phone 7 was untried and untested, had yet to make any impact on iOS' and Android's dominance of the market, and was unfamiliar to all but the inner circle at Redmond.

So it came as some surprise - to those who hadn't cottoned on to the Elop conspiracy theories at least - when Nokia signed a billion-dollar deal with Microsoft to exclusively supply licensed operating systems for all of its forthcoming handsets.

The latest chapter in the saga comes as Russian blogger Eldar Mutazin - who appears from recent revelations which have proved correct, to have some kind of inside track to Nokia's inner workings - insists that Microsoft is now looking to buy out Nokia's mobile operations lock, stock and barrel.

To put things into context here, Mutazin was pretty much alone in predicting the demise of Nokia's OVI brand some two weeks before the company killed it off. He also thinks that Nokia is being 'mean' and 'malicious' about his musings, attempting to dismiss his predictions as rumour and conjecture.

The blogger's latest prediction that Microsoft will snap up Nokia's entire mobile operation, and that the negotiations which will lead to that acquisition will start some time in the next week or so, have garnered an unusual - perhaps even unprecedented - response from Nokia's marketing machine.

Every tech company on the planet has a stock response to press enquiries about Internet tittle tattle. Ask Apple or Microsoft of Dell or HP about tipster mutterings - even from rock-solid sources and you will get the same "[Insert name of company] does not make comment on rumours or speculation."

The wall of silence surrounding new products, emerging technologies or boardroom shenanigans is universal and insurmountable in most cases. Unless, of course, the company is playing the old double-bluff switcheroo and wants people to think it's a secret when really it's a sneaky social engineering marketing ploy to manipulate sales or the stock market.

The very fact that Nokia's marketing machine kicked into action in light of Murtazin's mutterings is evidence enough that the company is concerned about the level of chatter being generated by the original blog, although whether that concern is fuelled by a desire to fan the flames or extinguish them remains to be seen.

Rumours of a buy-out by one of the richest companies on the planet will do a world of good for Nokia's bottom line, and could artificially inflate the price Microsoft will have to pay for the ailing mobile maker, but Microsoft will obviously want to snap up the company's assets and IP as cheaply as possible.

It's a finely-balanced game made all the more intriguing by Elop's insider status with both companies and the response of Mark Squire, Nokia's director of communications for the UK who broke the covenant of silence by remarking, "We typically don't comment on rumours. But we have to say that Eldar's rumors are getting obviously less accurate with every passing moment."

With Murtazin claiming that both companies are in a hurry to thrash out a deal, and that the whole acquisition could be signed, sealed and delivered by the end of the year, Microsoft could finally have the one thing it has craved for so long: a viable mobile division.

Any such foray is likely to do better than the Redmond Massive's last flirtation with the mobile communications field, the Kin series of teen-friendly handsets, which even Microsoft employees refused to be seen in public with, if rumours are to be believed.