Whoever succeeds Steve Ballmer as Microsoft's chief executive will have to make up for a lot of lost time. The reason? Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500), once the dominant technology company, is fighting obsolescence. It failed to capitalize on the biggest technology trends of the past decade -- mobile devices and Internet search -- and must now play catch-up to rivals likeGoogle (GOOG, Fortune 500) and Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500).
Microsoft disclosed its search for a new leader on Friday. Ballmer, the voluble salesman who has led the company since 2000, said he planned to resign within the next 12 months. There are a number of potential successors, but no obvious front-runner has emerged. Whoever is chosen must be comfortable in the spotlight along with the intense pressure that comes with trying to revive such a high-profile company.
Candidates must be well versed in technology and have experience at a large public company. Familiarity with Microsoft's business, which still depends heavily on selling Windows desktop software, is a plus. Microsoft's board will likely consider a number of internal candidates. But there are also executives from an array of other companies like Facebook (FB), Nokia (NOK) andJuniper Networks (JNPR) who could step into the role.
Whether the board gives the job to an insider or outsider could be telling. Boards seeking modest reorganizations and smooth transitions typically choose an internal candidate. Picking an outsider usually signals a more radical approach. What follows are some of the potential candidates for Microsoft's chief executive job, their selling points and their liabilities.