Mint CEO Aaron Patzer
Mint CEO Aaron Patzer isn’t itching to sell his online budgeting service, but a company like Microsoft would do well to buy it anyway.

No one’s said much about it, but there it was, plain as day, in Apple’s earnings call this week: Chief Financial Officer Peter Oppenheimer said the ‘A’ word.


When an analyst asked what Apple would do with more than $18 billion in cash it’s sitting on, Oppenheimer downplayed the possibility of a major stock buyback, and hinted that Apple could go shopping instead. “Our preference,” he said, “continues to be to maintain a strong balance sheet in order to preserve our flexibility to make strategic investments and/or acquisitions.”

Which is a fine segue to
my piece in the latest issue of Fortune
, which seeks to tackle the issue of what, exactly, Apple and others should do with their growing stacks of Benjamins. Among my recommendations: Apple should buy a green startup, Microsoft should buy Mint, and Google should buy TiVo .

Though Apple normally doesn’t buy many companies, I suggest 2008 might be a good time for Jobs & Co. to throw some money around. (Same goes for Microsoft and Google, which do a lot more spending than Apple.)