In a letter to shareholders this week, Yahoo! CEO Jerry Yang urged patience and said that Yahoo! would seek to remain independent. The letter is just the latest in a long string of daily updates that have occurred in the wake of Microsoft's $44.6 billion takeover offer for Yahoo!. I'm sure it won't be the last.

"I wanted to reach out to you personally to let you know why your Board of Directors, after a careful review by Yahoo!'s management along with our financial and legal advisors, believes that Microsoft's proposal substantially undervalues Yahoo! and is not in the best interests of our stockholders," Yang wrote. "Your Board is continuously evaluating all of Yahoo!'s strategic options in the context of the rapidly evolving industry environment, and we remain committed to pursuing initiatives that maximize value for all our stockholders." (Side note: Yang uses capital letters in his letter to shareholders, a formality he doesn't observe in letters to Yahoo! employees.)

Yang spelled out what he sees as Yahoo!'s "combination of strengths": its recognizable and admired brand, it's popularity with PC and mobile users, its strength in advertising, its healthy $2 billion cash balance, various infrastructure assets, and its investments overseas. "These assets are the core of our value and our leadership position in the industry," he wrote. "We have a huge market opportunity - and are uniquely positioned to capitalize on it."

It's unclear how Yahoo!'s market opportunities will yield better results now than they have in the last few years, during which time the company has lost both market share and stock value. And the fact that the company continues to seek partnership alternatives to Microsoft suggests that even Yahoo! understands that it can't stand on its own and ignore Microsoft forever. This week, yet another potential if long-shot Yahoo! suitor emerged: The company is looking into a partnership with News Corp., which owns MySpace and other popular online destinations.

Ultimately, potential deals with Google, AOL, and News Corp. may be more about convincing Microsoft to raise its bid for Yahoo! than they are about Yahoo! remaining independent. Platitudes about opportunities from Yang notwithstanding, Yahoo! hasn't been able to capitalize on online ad sales or search-based revenues to the degree with which Google has, and the gap is only widening over time.  Increasingly, a deal with Microsoft seems more of an inevitability than a possibility.