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Ballmer's Sweet Sellout: Tech Edge

Stocks in this article: MSFT AAPL GOOG T

-- Steve Ballmer's $1.33 billion insider selling move represented 12.2% of his entire Microsoft holdings, not 14% as originally reported. TheStreet regrets the error.

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Microsoft's (MSFT) Steve Ballmer is the rare chief executive that doesn't usually shrink from embarrassing situations and occasionally even throws himself into the spotlight.

But when it comes to unloading a billion or two worth of shares, Ballmer took the quiet route, announcing late Friday that he was looking to cash in $2 billion worth of Microsoft stock.

Microsoft CEO Steven Ballmer

The fact that the move came Friday was telling. But the fact that a standup guy like Ballmer picked a Friday seemed uncharacteristically timid.

Releasing bad news on the eve of a weekend when the market's attention starts to drifts a bit is a slightly shady move. Not only does it shield the stock from any immediate pressure, it attempts to protect the subject from the harsh media spotlight.

In a brief statement late Friday, Ballmer said he "plans to sell up to 75 million shares by year-end" as a personal finance matter to help him with "financial diversification and to assist in tax planning." According to an SEC filing Friday, he unloaded 49.3 million shares for a staggering $1.33 billion in cash.

Unlike Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates who sold 3 million shares, or $81.6 million, as part of his pre-arranged 10b-51 selling plan a day earlier, Ballmer's cash out was a surprise.

But don't fret, the 49.3 million shares Ballmer sold are a mere 12.2% of his total holdings. So he's effectively kept $8 billion of his power dry, you could say.

Ballmer has been under the gun in recent years for failing meet the Internet challenges posed by Google (GOOG) and the rising threat of old nemesis Apple (AAPL).

But this massive stock sale should in no way suggest he's not stoked about the company, which launched its new Windows 7 phones at AT&T (T) and T-Mobile Monday.

"I am excited about our new products and the potential for our technology to change people's lives," Ballmer said in his statement late Friday. "And I remain fully committed to Microsoft and its success."

Well, maybe 12.2% less committed, let's say.

--Written by Scott Moritz in New York.

>To contact this writer, click here: Scott Moritz, or email:

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Editor's note: "Tech Edge" is a blog written and compiled by Scott Moritz, TheStreet's senior tech correspondent. The blog explores behind-the-scenes tech news, rumors and reports that Wall Street folks are talking about.

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