Steve Ballmer is to step down from the role of CEO at Microsoft within a year, ignoring the instant was he pushed or did he jump speculation, who could replace him and what are their chances of success? 

Ballmer Leaving the Good Ship Microsoft

Steve Ballmer would have made an excellent Microsoft boss at any point between his arrival in 1983 and 2000 when he took over from his good friend Bill Gates. However, from that moment on, the world started spinning faster than even the giant Microsoft could keep up. With the Web becoming king of e-commerce, search becoming more important than the desktop and the arrival of smartphones in 2007 leading to the lingering desktop die-off we see today, Microsoft seemed too big to dance with the nimble new-generation. 

At all of these key junction points, Microsoft has been left behind, made missteps, or misjudged the market and has never really recovered, despite its continued domination in enterprise, business back rooms and on desks. Sure, Office and SharePoint rule their worlds, but is Bing really all that? And the less said about the struggles of identity with Windows 8, RT  and Windows Phone 8, despite their many merits, the better. The slashing of Surface tablet prices is just the latest step in that war.

Ballmer was a man building .Net and data centers, not so much on the end-user glitz and killer focus that was needed for this changing world. The highlight of his letter to Microsoft staff, pointing to the need for transformation (yet again), says a lot:

"This is a time of important transformation for Microsoft. Our new Senior Leadership team is amazing. The strategy we have generated is first class. Our new organization, which is centered on functions and engineering areas, is right for the opportunities and challenges ahead. I am excited by our mission of empowering the world and believe in our future success."

If it's all that great, why does it still need transforming? On the plus side, the stock is up 10% on the news. 

Finding the Right Person for the Future Microsoft

So, who can take over from the broad shoulders of Big Steve? His leadership and drive cannot be underestimated, and dealing with the flack of being the big cheese at Microsoft would have put a great many people off the position. Microsoft lost its obvious (and likely most popular) successor in Steve Sinofsky who championed the rebirth of Windows through Windows 7, but left last November. If Microsoft picks an outsider, he could be a favorite to return to the fold, assuming the internal politics allows for such a move. 

Mark Hurd, the former HP CEO would be a likely interview candidate since his rough ejection from that company's board, while the current holder of that role, Meg Whitman, perhaps fed up of west coast politics, might fancy a run at the post. 

But perhaps the "most likely to succeed" candidate would have to be former-Googler and now Yahooligan Marissa Mayer who has successfully started to turn that creaking ship around with recent numbers showing Yahoo outpacing Google in Internet activity (excluding search and mobile). But would Microsoft consider her web-focus a limitation in such a broad spectrum environment? 

The sad fact is, looking at the current board and senior leaders, there is no one there beyond Gates (Chairman) and Ballmer with enough recognized credibility to be a popular internal choice for the role. Perhaps Qi Lu, the Executive Vice President of Applications and Services, who has been through Yahoo and IBM, and was a personal hire of Ballmer's has made enough of a name. But, when it comes to CEO roles so much politics comes to bear that popularity is well down the list of desired credibility. 

So that's our list of interview candidates? What's yours? Time to start taking bets and putting up the good money.