A look at the favorites to be Microsoft’s next CEO

Who’s next in line to serve as chief executive officer of Microsoft? Obviously, no one really knows. But PCWorld writer Mark Hachman recently took a crack at figuring out which tech bigwigs are the most likely to become the next CEO of the tech giant. Here are a few of his thoughts.

The insider

Stephen Elop tops Hachman’s list mainly due to the 49-year-old’s insider knowledge of Microsoft and the way the company works. Elop has spent a lot of his career at Microsoft, joining the company’s business division in 2008 and then moving onto its Office group and Microsoft Dynamics. He has since left the company and transferred to Nokia, where, starting in 2010 he started serving as that company’s executive vice president of devices and services.

The pro

Hachman points to 68-year-old Alan Mulally as a favorite for the key Microsoft post. This engineer worked at Boeing for 37 years, eventually becoming chief executive officer of Boeing Commercial Airlines. He joined Ford as its president in 2006, and received praise for leading the automaker through the economic downturn while refusing government bailout dollars. He is, however, nearly 70, and some ponder whether that will hurt his chances.

The hotshot

The 46-year-old Tony Bates also merits attention, according to Hachman. Bates forged a successful career at Cisco, eventually rising to a post in which he oversaw thousands of employees as SVP in charge of enterprise, commercial and small business. He is now at Skype, serving as its CEO beginning in 2010. His priority there has been to expand VoIP technology in to the world of business.