Who would actually buy Microsoft's Xbox division?

Last week, a report surfaced suggesting that Stephen Elop, the man who many believe will take over for Steve Ballmer as Microsoft's next chief executive, would consider selling off the software giant's Xbox division to focus its efforts on Office and other key platforms that tend to make it more money.The announcement was a surprise, if nothing else, and it speaks to where Elop's thinking is right now. Elop might appreciate Microsoft's many businesses and what they offer to customers, but he believes that the company has gone too far into different operations and has lost sight of the divisions that matter.

While I can agree with such a sentiment to some degree, I can't help but wonder who in the world would buy Microsoft's Xbox division. After all, it's one thing to say that you want to sell a division, it's quite another to actually complete that sale.

Regardless, we need to work on the assumption that Elop would possibly sell off the Xbox division to the highest bidder. Given that framework, I need to ask: who would buy the company's gaming business?

At first blush, someone might think that Sony would make the move. After all, Microsoft has been a thorn in Sony's side for years and Xbox Live, alone, could prove to be an important asset to the PlayStation maker as it attempts to build out its online-gaming services.

In addition, gaming has become a central tenet in Sony's plans for rebirth. And since it still generates billions of dollars every quarter, it could conceivably afford Xbox's division.

The big question with Sony, however, is whether investors would allow such a dramatic move. Sony's business is by no means in the clear and spending what would undoubtedly be billions of dollars on a gaming business might not make financial sense right now.

[aquote]Google wants to score big in the living room[/aquote]

Which brings us to Google. This one might be a longshot, but Google at the very least looks like a company that wants to score big in the living room. And what better way to achieve that goal than by buying a division from Microsoft that already has a presence there. Google could certainly afford Microsoft's Xbox division, but given the companies' bitter battle, it's unlikely even Elop would sell the Xbox business to Google.

But what about Apple? According to several reports, Apple is at least considering making a play for the gaming business with its next set-top box (or whatever it has planned). Wouldn't it make sense for Apple to buy the Xbox division to build out those services more quickly?

The issue in this scenario, however, might be Apple. The company has long worked at not looking like a copycat, and has hounded Microsoft left and right. The very idea that it would acquire a Microsoft product could belie all of the comments it has made in the past.

So, I'm not quite sure what company would actually get its hands on the Xbox division. Yes, there are some candidates, but plausible examples can be made in each case where it wouldn't make sense to make the move.

Whether Elop likes it or not, he might just be stuck with the Xbox division.