Grabowski said there was no way to know whether Mulally's withdrawal from the Microsoft race was a clue that the company would soon announce its choice.
"Possibly," Grabowski said when asked whether Mulally's comment indicated that he had been knocked out of the running or declined the job in the final stages of Microsoft's process. "But it's equally likely that this sets back [Microsoft's] timetable and sends them back to the drawing board if he was the preferred candidate. So much is opaque about CEO selections."
Originally, Microsoft had not set a definitive timetable, saying last summer only that Ballmer would retire within 12 months. But three weeks ago, apparently to soothe the market, which had been jittery about the time it was taking, the head of the CEO-search committee did the unusual and said he expected the process to wrap up in early 2014.
Financial analysts had expected Microsoft to hustle, and name a CEO in late 2013.
One date Microsoft's board may be looking at on its own calendar is Jan. 23, when the company will announce it fourth-quarter earnings. Before that, the board will meet to go over the financials.
Last August, Microsoft struck a deal with activist investment firm ValueAct and said it would offer a seat on the board to ValueAct president G. Mason Morfit at the first board meeting after the annual shareholders meeting, which took place in November. Morfit will be the first member not appointed by the board itself, and could be a wild card if a CEO has not been chosen by then.
But if a report Wednesday by Kara Swisher of re/code is accurate, Microsoft will miss that deadline and have to deal with Morfit: Swisher, who cited anonymous sources close to the board, said that Microsoft would not present its pick until at least February, perhaps even later.
Remaining candidates whose names have regularly been touted as possible Ballmer replacements include several current executives, such as Tony Bates, Satya Nadellal and Kevin Turner; and Stephen Elop, the former CEO of Nokia who is to rejoin Microsoft after the latter closes its acquisition of the Finnish firm's handset business.
Mulally was the highest-profile outside candidate to surface in reports last year.
Sign up for Computerworld eNewsletters.