With 2013 rapidly coming to a close, investors are starting to look ahead to next year, assessing stocks in their portfolios. Of all the components in the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) , Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT ) stands out. Next year will be critical for Microsoft, as the Windows-maker moves forward in its ongoing transformation.
A new chief executive
The biggest change will come in the form of a new CEO. Steve Ballmer's successor could be named sometime this month and will have a big hand in shaping the company's future.
Microsoft has narrowed its list of candidates down to two, according to Bloomberg. The company will pick either current Ford CEO Alan Mulally or Microsoft's VP of its cloud-and-enterprise group, Satya Nadella.
Mulally is a friend of Steve Ballmer and helped Microsoft's current CEO reorganize the company earlier this year, making it likely that he would stay the course. Although he isn't a tech expert, Mulally is well-regarded for successful stints at Ford and Boeing. Still, at 68, he would probably be a stopgap solution.
Picking Nadella would probably signal a greater focus on cloud-based services and solutions. Microsoft has been moving in that direction already with Office 365 and Windows Azure; with Nadella at the helm, the emphasis on the cloud should be expected to continue.
What will become of Bing and Xbox?
Ahead of Microsoft naming its next CEO, speculation has surfaced that the company could spin off, sell, or otherwise shut down its Xbox and search-engine businesses. If the Bloomberg report is accurate, Stephen Elop has been eliminated from contention, but had he been named Microsoft's next CEO he was said to be considering such a move.
Arguably, both businesses are secondary to Microsoft's primary products and getting rid of them could allow Microsoft to transform itself into a more tightly focused company. Moreover, both have cost Microsoft money in recent years -- Bing in particular has bled Microsoft of billions.
At the same time, Bing and Xbox stand as two of Microsoft's most competitive products. Apple recently confirmed that it had acquired PrimeSense, the company that designed the chips for use in Microsoft's Xbox add-on Kinect. With PrimeSense in tow, Apple seems to be preparing for its assault on the living room -- a market that Microsoft is already serving with its new Xbox One.
Microsoft's Bing is more or less the only product stopping Google from having a total monopoly on search. Although Bing remains firmly in second place, Microsoft has stepped up its anti-Google efforts with a more aggressive "Scroogled" campaign and has integrated Bing heavily into the new Windows 8.1 update.
Devices and services
Over the last decade, Microsoft has been a consistent dividend payer, but its growth has sharply lagged rivals Apple and Google. Microsoft's next CEO will get the opportunity to shift the company's focus going forward, perhaps slimming the company down by getting rid of divisions or emphasizing new businesses and cloud services.
At any rate, 2014 is set to be a huge year for Microsoft.
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