Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Ballmer Dials Up Busy Signals in Search for Microsoft Digital Head

Time waits for no man–but Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer seems to be taking an awful lot of it in picking who will head the software giant’s long-foundering digital efforts.

It has been almost two months since Microsoft said it would find someone to helm the part of the business that was run by former exec Kevin Johnson, who left in July after the software giant’s bid for Yahoo failed.

A decision could come at any time, although Ballmer is reportedly intent on getting exactly the right person for the job.

But, by now, most inside the company had expected him to make the most obvious internal choice of SVP Brian McAndrews, who came to Microsoft (MSFT) via its $6 billion acquisition of aQuantive.

McAndrews now runs Microsoft’s Advertising and Publisher Solutions Group.

Longtime digital SVP of Strategic Partnerships Yusuf Mehdi has been seen as the No. 2 candidate. He could also be part of a team that includes both him and McAndrews.

Many sources have said they expect McAndrews to leave if he is not given the top digital post.

But sources also report that Ballmer remains more intent on hiring someone outside the company, with the idea that such a person could better re-energize Microsoft’s moribund Internet efforts and bring in a fresher perspective.

According to sources, his favored external pick has been former Yahoo (YHOO) COO Dan Rosensweig, who has turned down the offer.

Ballmer has also been interested in former Facebook top exec Owen Van Natta, who might be a dark horse in the race.

In addition, Ballmer has previously queried former AOL head Jon Miller, who was in line to be on the board of Yahoo until he was nixed due to a noncompete agreement with the online service’s owner, Time Warner (TWX). Miller told Ballmer he was not interested in the job.

“Ballmer is burning up the Rolodex and coming up empty,” said one person familiar with Microsoft. “But he is still looking outward.”

Other sources said Ballmer (pictured here) might now be considering a more pure-tech exec for the role, rather than a Web exec.

Microsoft’s culture is more technical than not, and such a leader might have an easier time leading the company’s Web efforts.

Yesterday, Valleywag had an intriguing report that well-regarded former Yahoo tech exec Qi Lu, who was its top search scientist, might be headed to Microsoft.

But Lu would be a more powerful weapon in Microsoft’s fight with archrival Google (GOOG) in the search arena than as the company’s overall digital leader.

Then again, nabbing someone like Li could be part of a larger team Ballmer might be contemplating, made up of both external and internal elements.

Time will tell, of course. How much time, though, is anyone’s guess.

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