Kara Swisher

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As BoomTown Said, Bartz Is Tops on the Yahoo CEO Short List–Here's the Reaction

Following on BoomTown’s report earlier this week, The Wall Street Journal followed by also naming former Autodesk top exec Carol Bartz as a contender for Yahoo CEO in a report today.

Since my post on Wednesday, I have been getting a lot of intense reaction from inside and outside of Yahoo to the idea of an old-line tech CEO–such as Bartz (pictured here in a lovely WSJ dot drawing)–with little Internet or online advertising experience, taking on the difficult role at Yahoo (YHOO).

Bartz certainly has a rock solid resume, including a computer science degree–exactly of the kind the Yahoo board has been interested in, as I have previously reported.

She successfully led Autodesk (ADSK)–which makes computer-aided design software and is half Yahoo’s size–for 14 years, before retiring in 2006 to spend more time with her family.

Bartz remains Autodesk’s executive chairman and also serves on big-name tech boards, such as Intel (INTC) and Cisco (CSCO).

What’s most interesting about the reaction to Bartz is that the kudos and the knocks track very closely.

Some think her lack of Internet and online ad experience is a problem, while others think it is a good thing, freeing her to think freshly.

Some worry about her age (60 years old), while others see it as important to get a seasoned pro in the seat.

Most controversially, some are concerned about her closeness to Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang and President Sue Decker–Bartz serves on the Cisco board with Yang and the Intel board with Decker–seeing the choice as an attempt by Yang to stay in power at Yahoo.

But others think it will make for a smoother transition and that Yahoo still needs Yang’s involvement, despite his rocky tenure as CEO.

Consider the wildly different opinions on the idea of an exec like Bartz:

“It is unbelievable to me that there are NO Web monetization experts being considered for Yahoo CEO–the fix is easy–just focus on making money!!” said one former Yahoo exec.

Added another person close to Yahoo: “I don’t see how Bartz is qualified, other than as a successful former CEO. CAD software is very different from Yahoo’s technology and she has no apparent background in ad sales.”

But others disagree.

“Yahoo needs a strong executive like Bartz to get the company on track, and all she needs is to be able to focus, make deals and be decisive,” said a Yahoo insider. “And she is plenty tough enough to do it and has the tech chops too.”

In addition, another former Yahoo exec noted that she could easily be paired with a strong No. 2, with much more of an Internet background.

“There are a lot of great choices around who would love to take a COO job, since it is clear Bartz will not be a long-term CEO,” said the former exec, referring to her age. “It is a perfect stepping stone.”

But the Yang connection worried one current exec: “Jerry just does not want to let go. The person who made this mess should not be controlling a search to replace himself, especially with someone who is probably friendly to him.”

Indeed, several sources said the most prominent insider considered, board member John Chapple, is now not a choice, due to his closeness to fellow director Carl Icahn. Icahn came to the Yahoo board after waging an ugly proxy fight against the company and Yang.

But other current exec disagrees. “Yahoo has had enough turmoil and we need someone who can come in and settle things down,” said the exec. “Bartz seems perfect to do that.”

Another exec points out that Yang has not apparently been favoring Decker (pictured here), to whom he is very loyal, but who carries the same baggage as Yang about Yahoo’s current state.

“That Sue is not the likely choice is a sign that Jerry has tried to make the best choice for the company over getting an ally in power,” said the exec. “I think he also knows the reaction to her as CEO would probably send Wall Street into a tizzy and signal investors of an unwillingness to be accountable or to change by the already tarnished board.”

Whoever the new leaders of Yahoo are, they will have their work cut out for them, from deciding the strategy, especially with regard to a search deal with Microsoft (MSFT), to determining whether a merger deal with Time Warner (TWX) online unit AOL should happen.

While rich in assets and online traffic, Yahoo has suffered over the last year from a range of internal and external troubles that have shaken the iconic Web company to its core and depressed its stock.

That’s why Yahoo’s board probably must select a new CEO before it reports fourth-quarter earnings on Jan. 27.

If not, it will have to answer sharp questions from investors, Wall Street analysts and the press about why the process is taking so long, especially considering the urgency.

That sluggishness, of course, is a hallmark of Yahoo, and one of the reasons for its current troubles. Yang announced he would be stepping down in mid-November.

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There’s a lot of attention and PR around Marissa, but their product lineup just kind of blows.

— Om Malik on Bloomberg TV, talking about Yahoo, the September issue of Vogue Magazine, and our overdependence on Google