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Microsoft’s annual meeting of shareholders in Bellevue this morning opened with a surprise — Bill Gates, Microsoft’s chairman, who has been largely silent at these meetings in recent years, took the stage at the outset to address the shareholders on topics including Microsoft’s future prospects and its CEO search.

“We’re pleased with the progress,” Gates said of the hunt for a new CEO. “In fact, we met last night and talked a lot about where we are.”

Gates called it a “complex global business” that the new CEO will lead, as the person takes Microsoft through a period of transition and faces competitive challenges while trying to leverage its positions of strength. He said the person has to be comfortable working with Microsoft’s technical teams, as well.

“We’re looking at a number of candidates, and I’m not going to give a timeline today, but we’re pleased with our progress and feel that by going through the process we’ll get the best person for the job.”

He spoke about Steve Ballmer’s tenure in the role, and the challenges of the Microsoft CEO’s position. He paused and started to choke up for just a moment, before he concluded. He said of Ballmer and himself, “We share a commitment that Microsoft will succeed as a company that makes the world a better place.”

Follow-upIn final shareholder speech, Ballmer defends Bing and Xbox as key parts of Microsoft

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