Yesterday's news that Microsoft is buying LinkedIn for $26.2 billion set commentators chattering. And most were chattering about one topic in particular: Why? What exactly is Microsoft hoping to accomplish with the deal?

"Not only does LinkedIn extend Microsoft's quest to connect business users -- Skype and Yammer both previous examples of the same interest -- but there's an amazing amount of data. Microsoft will be able to see what people are doing in business, who's hiring, what the requirements are for various positions," noted my colleague Erik Sherman, for instance.

"This is a way to make the plans and expectations of companies all over the world transparent to a business that wants to sell them the technology they need," he claims. But he's not the only one speculating about what exactly Microsoft will use its new acquisition for.

On his company's blog, Postlight co-founder Paul Ford let his imagination run wild, generating nine possibilities for how the software giant could put the professional social network to use. Some are (admittedly) loony but entertaining (a LinkedIn-Minecraft integration anyone? How about a Microsoft-LinkedIn phone?) but others are incredibly thought-provoking.

1. Microsoft could embed LinkedIn into Windows as a service.

"Think about how amazing Hotmail and Outlook could be if you could instantly write to anyone in your second-degree LinkedIn networks. Imagine how exciting it will be when you can beg your friends for an introduction to someone in their professional circles right from your email client with the push of a button," writes Ford. "This integration is the thing that could finally destroy email," he adds. (Though I'm personally skeptical about this last claim having heard it so often before. You?)

2. Microsoft could embed LinkedIn into Microsoft Office.

"Office is about doing things, and people do things socially more often than they used to. LinkedIn is a business social network, and it probably knows more about your company than the people inside the company do," notes Ford. What happens when those two realities collide?

"Imagine if you came to a section of your Microsoft Word document that needed, I don't know--some sort of forecast, or a description of a forthcoming product. You could draw a little rectangle and automagically trigger a request to someone from the product team, asking them to fill in the rectangle," imagines Ford. "Workflows like this used to be the stuff of fantasy and billion-dollar 'unified object model' sinkholes," he adds, but "LinkedIn has the messaging network and 'InMail' system to pull this off, given a couple hundred million dollars."

3. Microsoft could mine LinkedIn's data in order to inform product strategy.

This is "highly sketchy," Ford concedes, but it's also fascinating to ponder. "LinkedIn is an unbelievable data-mining platform; it has the ground truth about the global economy, especially around the technology industry, and it has a lock on that data," he notes. That opens the door to Microsoft knowing "what's going on with Facebook before Zuckerberg does; it'll know what skills are being added to Googlers' resumes; it'll know what kind of searches HR departments are doing across the world, and it can use that information to start marketing its own services to those companies."

In short, Microsoft "can use LinkedIn as a global knowledge base to make more informed, long-term decisions about its own role in the global economy," which is "...terrifying. And we'll never really know what's going on. Which makes it kind of brilliant. But still terrifying."

How do you envision the Microsoft-LinkedIn deal playing out?