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There could be some big changes to Microsoft's board

Tuesday, 4 Feb 2014 | 7:27 AM ET
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Take one last look at the Microsoft board because it could soon be experiencing big changes.

Reports suggest that Bill Gates could step down as chairman. The move would be huge as there are few people more closely aligned with a company than Gates is with the behemoth he co-founded.

(Watch: Microsoft nears end of CEO search)

Tech news site Re/code reports that the move is predicated on Gates getting more involved at the company. Satya Nadella, who is reportedly the top choice to be the next CEO, has asked Gates to help address technology and product problems at the software giant.

If he steps down as chairman, Gates could remain a first-among-equals director. Analysts say Gates would likely feel more comfortable giving up the role as chairman if Nadella is named CEO. The two men are both technologists with deep backgrounds in computer science.

(Watch: CNBC's top 25: Herb likes Bill Gates)

"With Satya Nadella heading Microsoft, Gates feels like he's leaving the house in good hands, " said FBR Capital Markets' Dan Ives. "I think you could give away the keys at this point knowing there is a core Redmond insider taking over, and it is obviously someone that has his blessing."

What Microsoft needs
Kara Swisher, Re/Code co-executive editor, says Microsoft will "probably" announce Satya Nadella as its new CEO on Tuesday. The FMHR traders share their opinions.

Who would replace Gates if he steps down as chairman? Reportedly, the man leading the search for the new CEO, John Thompson. A former CEO of Symantec, he has been described as a charismatic leader. But his own career has been marked with missteps.

In the 10 years under Thompson's watch, Symantec's revenue rose tenfold to $5.9 billion.

However, he also oversaw Symantec's acquisition of Veritas in 2004. The acquisition was designed to merge two fast growing industries: storage and security. But there was no overlap between the companies' customers, analysts say, and Thompson left Symantec in far worse shape because of it.

(Watch: Apple is more inventive than Microsoft: Swisher)

Calls to Thompson were referred to Symantec, but the company declined to comment.

As for Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's current CEO, it's unclear whether he will stay on the board. His track record leading Microsoft is mixed. He more than tripled revenue to $77 billion, but Ballmer also missed big tech trends such as mobile and social. The stock under his watch is down about 20 percent.

Analysts also question the personal dynamics between Ballmer and Nadella if Ballmer remains on the board. Nadella worked for Balllmer for years. Would he have the courage and confidence to stand up to Ballmer in a boardroom showdown? It's an open question for Nadella, who has never worked as a CEO.

—By CNBC's Josh Lipton. Follow him on Twitter @CNBCJosh.

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  • Matt Hunter is the senior technology editor at CNBC.com.

  • Cadie Thompson is a tech reporter for the Enterprise Team for CNBC.com.

  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.

  • Jon Fortt is an on-air editor. He covers the companies, start-ups, and trends that are driving innovation in the industry.

  • Lipton is CNBC's technology correspondent, working from CNBC's Silicon Valley bureau.

  • Mark is CNBC's Silicon Valley/San Francisco Bureau Chief covering technology and digital media.