A report posted in the "Bits" blog of The New York Times said Ballmer recently met with Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen to talk about Apple's control of the cell phone market and how Microsoft and Adobe could work together to fend off the iPhone maker.
It was in this context that a possible buyout of Adobe by Microsoft Corp. came up, according to The Times. Microsoft had no comment.
In a statement, Adobe said it shares "millions of customers around the world" with Microsoft, and "the CEOs of the two companies do meet from time to time. However, we do not publicly comment on the timing or topics of their private meetings."
Adobe Systems Inc., based in San Jose, Calif., makes software such as Photoshop and the Flash technology used for Web videos and games. The company has been in a long-standing feud with Apple Inc. over Flash, which Apple bans from its mobile devices such as the iPad and the iPhone.
An Adobe acquisition would be a huge one for Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft, whose last big purchase was in 2007, when it bought aQuantive Inc. for $6 billion. A proposed deal to buy Yahoo Inc. the following year fell apart when Microsoft withdrew a $47.5 billion bid. Adobe's market cap is close to $15 billion.
Gleacher & Co. analyst Yun Kim said a potential buyer would be "great" for Adobe, which is looking to grow its annual revenue to $5 billion in the next couple of years. It had revenue of about $3 billion last year.
But from Microsoft's point of view, it's unclear what parts of Adobe's business they can use to get themselves ahead in the online advertising market.
Adobe ended the session up nearly 12 percent at $28.69, with trading volume more than six times the average. The stock slid 14 cents to $28.55 in aftermarket trading. Microsoft ended trading up a dime at $24.53.