Google, the high-flying Web search company, recently began holding meetings with bankers in preparation for its highly anticipated initial public offering. At the same time, it was still engaged in meetings of another kind: exploring a partnership or even a merger with Microsoft.

According to company executives and others briefed on the discussions, Microsoft--desperate to capture a slice of the popular and ad-generating search business--approached Google within the last two months to discuss options, including the possibility of a takeover.

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