Is Microsoft ready for show biz?

Sources tell me the software giant has expressed — maybe the better word is "murmured" — a fascination with MGM (MGM), the old-line Hollywood studio that put itself up for sale a few months back.

Whether Microsoft (MSFT) is willing to go up against the other potential buyers isn't known, but sources tell me the interest seems to be coming from high levels inside the company.

Microsoft would be a formidable force if it decides to go after MGM on its own. It's more likely Bill Gates would want to join one of the other groups known to be looking at MGM. The studio didn't disclose much about the takeover process at its annual shareholder meeting this week.

As it now stands, Sony (SNE) is looking to add MGM to its substantial library of movie titles. But the Sony-led group of investors hasn't yet made an offer, despite having had exclusive negotiating rights for a while.

Time Warner is also expected to be in the bidding, as is NBC, which last year plucked Universal Studios' movie assets from troubled Vivendi in an exciting bidding process.

Of those potential buyers, Microsoft — if the interest is genuine — would most likely fit best with NBC, a unit of General Electric. Those two companies already have a joint cable TV operation, MSNBC.

Years ago, Microsoft puzzled everyone when it purchased — through a private company — the Bettmann Archive, which contained millions of historical photographs. And Microsoft founder Bill Gates has since been purchasing the electronic rights to thousands of other images, mostly works of art.

Microsoft has a policy of not commenting on rumors. But I think this one makes a lot of sense.