Who's who guide to Microsoft's 'Game of Thrones'

Official announcement of Steve Ballmer's replacement is imminent -- keep track of key players with this quick scorecard

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Mulally and Bates made Reuters' "exclusive" list of four Microsoft CEO candidates left standing. The other two were:

  • Executive VP of Microsoft's Cloud and Enterprise group Satya Nadella, who certainly has the technical chops for the job. He's been with Microsoft for 21 years -- started with the nascent Online Services Division, moved up to lead Bing, then Server & Tools -- and he really gets the cloud. My guess is that he's too valuable in a technical role and probably not perceived as enough of a business heavyweight to take the CEO position. Nonetheless, he'll be a key part of the new Microsoft.
  • The final last man standing named by Reuters, Stephen Elop, was in the news earlier this week, and not in a good way. Rightly or wrongly, he was quoted in Bloomberg as saying that Xbox and Bing could be sold off, and Office should rule the roost. This seemingly internal discussion was corroborated by no fewer than three Elop honchos speaking out of school. While Elop may or may not have said what's been attributed, the overall effect was chilling.

(Consider that Office's main claim to fame is its inscrutable native file format: Dozens of competitors have tried to manipulate Office docs without breaking them, and none have succeeded. It's hard to imagine betting Microsoft's future on the impenetrability of DOCX, XLSX, and PPTX formats.)

Elop has a short history with Microsoft -- he led the Business Division (read: Microsoft Office) in January 2008, moved to Nokia in September 2010, managed to sell Nokia's phone business to Microsoft earlier this year (collecting a cool $25 million on the way), and will return to Microsoft early next year, once the deal's done. Prior to Microsoft, Elop held executive positions at Lotus, Boston Chicken, Macromedia, and Juniper, leaving a rather controversial trail.

The Reuters article says Microsoft has narrowed its short list down to five individuals, but it only names four. The article says that three of the candidates are "internal," but it isn't clear if Elop is internal or external or somewhere in between. Bloomberg popped up two days later and said that the final candidate is COO Kevin Turner.

  • Turner joined Microsoft in 2005, from Wal-Mart, where his last job was CEO of Sam's Club. He now has a very broad spectrum of duties at Microsoft, including head of sales and marketing, online advertising sales, corporate support (including IT), PR, customer support, and a handful of major "other" functions. By all accounts, he's respected and capable -- but whether he'd turn any Wall Street heads as CEO remains open to question.

Those are the people most frequently mentioned as the latest survivors in the ongoing Microsoft "Game of Thrones." A year ago, I had a much longer list. Raikes and Bill Veghte remain dark horses, but they seem less likely to occupy the corner office with every passing day. Reed Hastings is doing a stellar job at Netflix, driving its stock into the stratosphere, and it's unlikely he could be lured away.

As we enter the last episode of the season, it's still hard to tell who will be left standing. And there's always next season.

This story, "Who's who guide to Microsoft's 'Game of Thrones'," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. 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 InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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