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Steve Ballmer and Alan Mulally

Now that Bill Gates has definitively said that he’s not going back to Microsoft, it’s time to start talking about who could possibly fill Steve Ballmer’s shoes in Redmond.

According to a report by Kara Swisher at AllThingsD, anonymous sources close to the selection process have said that Ford CEO Alan Mulally is at the top of the short list to replace Ballmer as Microsoft’s CEO.

Mulally’s name has been floated by the rumor mill in the past, but has been shot down for a variety of reasons.

First and foremost, Mulally’s contract puts him at Ford through 2014, though some reports say that Ford’s board has offered Mulally an opportunity to leave before his contract is up.

In addition, Mulally has gone on the record to say that he’s not interested in taking the Microsoft job. Swisher’s sources said that although Mulally wasn’t interested at first, he has come around to the idea.

Mulally would seem to be a logical choice, in part because he was one of the advisors behind Steve Ballmer’s reorganization, has roots in the Northwest thanks to his former position as a Boeing executive and has experience with turning companies around. He’s 68 years old, 11 years old than Ballmer, so if he were hired it would probably be with the understanding that it’s a short-term gig.

Mulally was one of the candidates that GeekWire’s Todd Bishop and John Cook debated in a recent podcast, with John putting a bit more weight on the speculation at the time around turnaround specialist Mulally. (Minute 8:45 in the link above).

“That’s a complex business, running an auto manufacturing company, and he’s done a fantastic job,” said Cook, pointing to Mulally’s roots at Boeing as well.

Bishop called Mulally a “super long-shot,” saying at the time he thought former Windows boss Steven Sinofsky had a better shot to come back to Microsoft.

So, who do you think is right, John or Todd? Or is someone else going to be in the mix?

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