The race to determine the next head of Microsoft Corp looks to have ended where it began, with the software giant poised to take the route of least risk and tap rising internal star Satya Nadella for the job. (Read: Satya Nadella showed inquisitive streak as student)
After a bruising, five-month selection process, the list of contenders was cut to six serious candidates, with the chief executive job nearly going to Ford Motor Co CEO Alan Mulally, an outsider favored by investors lobbying for radical change.
If Nadella wins the day, as expected, it will be for his innovative work on Microsoft's growing server and tools business, which provides online computing and storage for companies, said a source briefed on the search process.
Nadella is in discussions with the board, and is likely to ask that Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates drop his chairman role and help Nadella more closely on technology, two sources said. ( (Also read: 6 things about Satya Nadella))
It is not clear why Nadella might want a role change for Gates. The presence of Gates and current CEO Steve Ballmer on the board has deterred some external candidates who feared they would meet resistance if they want to make fundamental changes, sources have told Reuters over the past few months.
Nadella is praised for his role in overseeing growth in the company's cloud computing and Bing search engine business, and as a technologist with a talent for marketing. Critics say he failed to halt Google Inc's dominance in the search engine business. They say Microsoft's entry into the cloud-computing arena was late and clunky, allowing Amazon.com Inc to set the standard in providing online computing platforms for companies
It remains unclear whether the 46-year old Indian-born executive will meet some investors' desire for more radical moves at the software maker, after Ballmer announced in August that he planned to retire.
"From the technical side, Mr. Nadella is a good choice," said Rick Sherlund, an analyst at Nomura who publicly lobbied for an outside candidate who would shake up Microsoft and maximize returns to shareholders.
"We do not want to see a continuation of the existing direction for the business, so it will be important that Mr. Nadella be free to make changes," said Sherlund.
It was just such a desire that made Mulally a front runner until a few weeks ago, when it became clear that the Ford CEO