The decision -- which rests ultimately with Bill Gates -- will say a lot about how radical a change Microsoft's board wants to see over the next few years.
An outsider will signal more change than an insider. A younger CEO will signal more change than an older one.
There's no doubt that Microsoft feels pressure to force some level of change.It has pushed out Ballmer only because a shareholder with $2 billion invested threatened to run for a couple of board seats and force change from the inside. Let's go through some of the potential candidates who have received attention over the past week: 1. Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook (FB - Get Report) and Marissa Mayer of Yahoo! (YHOO - Get Report). I heard Jeffrey Sonnenfeld of Yale mention these two executives last week on CNBC. These are two high-profile names for sure, but I don't think Sandberg or Mayer would want to trade her current gig for wrangling the Microsoft beast. Life's too short, and their consumer focus isn't a fit for the wider swath of Microsoft's enterprise businesses. 2. Reed Hastings of Netflix (NFLX), David Sacks of Yammer or Aaron Levie of Box: Some have said that Microsoft needs a radical break from its stodgy past and that a younger CEO could fit this bill. Although many outsiders believe Microsoft's in need of radical change, I doubt that anyone on the board feels that way. The board has been dragged by activist Jeff Ubben into replacing Ballmer. The board's focus now will be on making the most incremental change possible to get Ubben off their backs. Someone like Sacks or Levie is a bridge too far for this board. It is likely to view such a move as too risky for such a young and -- in their eyes -- "unproven" candidate. Hastings knows Microsoft well from his time on the board. However, he was -- per Kara Swisher -- apparently the director first pushing for Ballmer's ouster, which led to him leaving the board. Thus, I think it's highly unlikely that the same board who drove him away would seek to bring him back to save the company.