Does Stephen Elop really want to kill Bing and Xbox?

Sources say CEO candidate would consider selling or shutting down major businesses at Microsoft, but report misses important points

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First, I find it impossible to believe that Microsoft would formally spin off any of its units. Why? Because in the normal course of events, Microsoft would be placed in the very uncomfortable position of revealing historic data -- particularly financial and usage data -- about its most embarrassing products. Microsoft has raised obfuscation to an art form; if there were a Nobel Prize in Creative Accounting, I'm convinced the first 10 recipients would all come from Microsoft. The change in accounting methods from FY 2012 to FY 2013 -- let's call it Microsoft Accounting 3.0 -- has basically guaranteed no accountability for any executive decision made at the company, ever.

If it sounds like I harbor a tinge of admiration, I do. Imagine a company that can hide a $2 billion income stream in plain sight. Would a company that adroit at smoke and mirrors intentionally disclose how many Xbox One consoles it's sold? Or how much it makes from Bing core advertising? Not a chance. Far better to keep the numbers inside the kimono, even if the company's bleeding.

To put it another way: Spinning off any of the Microsoft business units would require such a dose of fresh air and financial transparency, it's very hard to image who would be able to pull it off.

Second, Elop may have a hell of a problem. If three of Elop's top lieutenants really ratted him out to Bloomberg (and this isn't instead some elaborate ploy concocted either by the Microsoft board or Rick Sherlund or Elop himself) and spilled their guts about the boss's private musings to the same publication, Elop has a security leak of unprecedented proportions.

Leaky advisers certainly don't bode well for any serious Microsoft CEO candidate. The transgression should weigh heavily in the vetting process -- unless, of course, this is all "Game of Thrones"-esque intrigue.

As for the $64 billion question: I still think former Skype CEO Tony Bates will end up as CEO -- or perhaps co-CEO, as I explained back in August.

And it's looking more and more likely that Alan Mulally will take on some formal role. My notoriously inaccurate crystal ball places Mulally as a resident guru, advisor, or co-CEO -- or even possibly CEO, with Bates as COO -- and a succession plan that would put Bates in charge after just a few years.

The one big question mark in all of this: Paul Maritz. Although Maritz didn't make Reuters' Gang of Five shortlist of candidates, I'm hearing more grassroots rumblings that the rank and file would love to see him back after 13 years away.

Not sure if the grass roots count for much in this high stakes sport, but Maritz could be a game changer -- not just for the shareholders, but for the working shnooks who are shaping Microsoft's future.

This story, "Does Stephen Elop really want to kill Bing and Xbox?," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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