Microsoft Says It Won't Decide On New CEO Until Early Next Year

John Thompson, lead independent director of Microsoft's board, said in a blog post Tuesday that Microsoft won't pick a CEO to replace the departing Steve Ballmer until "the early part of 2014."

Microsoft's board has given itself until August 2014 to name Ballmer's successor, so this doesn't come as a huge surprise. But according to published reports, Microsoft was expected to appoint a new leader by the end of the year.

[Related: Microsoft CEO Drama Intensifies As VMware, Qualcomm Execs Surface As Candidates ]

Despite the delay, Thompson described himself as "pleased" with the progress Microsoft's CEO search committee has made so far. "The Board has taken the thoughtful approach that our shareholders, customers, partners and employees expect and deserve," he said in the blog post.

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Thompson also offered insight into the skills it's looking for. He noted that Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, at the company's annual meeting with shareholders in November, described the CEO job as a "complex role to fill, involving a complex business model and the ability to lead a highly technical organization and work with top technical talent."

Microsoft partners told CRN they're happy Microsoft isn't rushing to appoint the third CEO since its founding in 1975. To rush such an important decision would be a big mistake, they said.

"While the rest of the world, and the Microsofties themselves, would love to have [the CEO question] answered sooner rather than later, finding the right person for this role is critical," Dave Sobel, director of partner community at GFI Software, a Durham, N.C., vendor and Microsoft partner, said in an email.

"Microsoft is correctly exploring all the options they can. A misstep could be catastrophic, but a delay does little to impact day to day operations," Sobel said.

One longtime partner, who spoke on condition of anonymity, is hoping Microsoft finds a CEO with the right balance of technical knowledge and vision. "Yes, a technology company should be led by someone innovative, and who is technical enough to understand what’s important to its customers," said the source.

Thompson's revelation comes after a particularly intense week of activity on the Microsoft CEO search front. First came reports that Ford's board was pressing CEO Alan Mulally, who has until recently been considered the frontrunner for the Microsoft post, to clarify his plans.

On Thursday, Bloomberg reported that Microsoft had zeroed in on Qualcomm COO Steve Mollenkopf, a 19-year company veteran, as its CEO choice. But Friday, Qualcomm quashed that idea by naming Mollenkopf to replace current CEO Paul Jacobs effective next March.

Separately, AllThingsD reported the existence of a "dark horse" male tech executive candidate who hadn't previously been linked to the Microsoft CEO search, speculating that it could be VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger.