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elop-ballmerA report by Bloomberg News this morning quotes anonymous sources saying that Stephen Elop, the former Microsoft exec and Nokia CEO, would consider making the Office applications available more widely beyond Windows if he succeeds Steve Ballmer as Microsoft’s next CEO. He’d also be open to spinning off the Xbox and Bing businesses, according to the sources.

Then again, maybe not, because he hasn’t finalized his analysis of the Microsoft business, the story says.

“We appreciate Bloomberg’s foray into fiction and look forward to future episodes,” said Microsoft’s Frank Shaw, as quoted in the story.

Whether or not Bloomberg’s premise turns out to be true, the situation reflects how the Microsoft CEO search is playing out in the media, with a series of speculative pieces purporting to convey inside knowledge about the CEO search. I’ve been talking with current and former Microsoft executives about the process, and from what I can tell, the majority of these reports aren’t based on first-hand information from the actual board members who are running the process.

What these stories do have in common is 1) they’re anonymously sourced and 2) they play into popular theories among investors about what the company should do.

Earlier this week, for example, Microsoft’s shares climbed above $38 when longtime analyst Rick Sherlund predicted that Ford CEO Alan Mulally will be named the new Microsoft CEO by December. This was part of an extensive “action plan” for the new Microsoft CEO in which Sherlund reiterated his belief that Microsoft should spin off its Xbox and Bing businesses.

Among other theories, Sherlund suggested that Ballmer “may decide to leave the board, and Microsoft might consider repurchasing his $12B share position,” despite Ballmer’s public statement that he “treasures his Microsoft stock.”

At one point in the analysis, Sherlund acknowledged, “We are just reasoning our way through here.” And yet the stock market reacted as if the reasoning were reality.

This whole thing may be a case of media and analysts running amok, but Microsoft and Ballmer have helped to enable it. Ballmer’s abrupt exit, years ahead of schedule, has combined with a lack of a clear succession plan to set the stage for this awkward limbo period. It can’t be fun to be a Microsoft executive or manager trying to implement a giant reorg in the middle of all this.

Whoever the Microsoft board actually ends up choosing as the next CEO, here’s hoping they’re looking beyond these usual suspects on the “short list,” and that the person they pick has the vision to do something beyond these obvious “solutions.”

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