Microsoft’s board of directors initially identified more than 100 candidates as possible successors to outgoing CEO Steve Ballmer and interviewed dozens of them, according to the head of the board’s search committee.

CIOs with data centers running Windows Server, SQL Server, and other Microsoft products should monitor leadership saga in Redmond. Watch for possible changes, including divestitures, to the product line.

In a blog post, John Thompson said the software maker expects to name a new chief “in the early part of 2014.” Microsoft announced on Aug.23 that Ballmer would step down within 12 months.

Microsoft has ID’d more than 100 CEO candidates; will name Ballmer successor early 2014.

“Since then, we’ve been focused on finding the best possible person to lead the company,” Thompson wrote.

“After defining our criteria, we initially cast a wide net across a number of different industries and skill sets. We identified more than 100 possible candidates, talked with several dozen and then focused our energy intensely on a group of about 20 individuals, all extremely impressive in their own right,” said Thompson.

Thompson noted that individuals on the short list have been subject to “deeper research and investigation, including with the full board. We’re moving ahead well, and I expect we’ll complete our work in the early part of 2014.”

Among the candidates widely rumored to be among the front-runners to become the third CEO in Microsoft’s history (Ballmer and Bill Gates are the other two) is Ford CEO Alan Mulally. On Monday, reports emerged that Ford’s board has been pressuring Mulally to state definitively whether he would leave the automaker for the top job at Microsoft.

Mulally, an engineer by training, is one of a handful of executives thought to be among the leading candidates to replace Ballmer. Another is former Nokia CEO Stephen Elop, who is also a former Microsoft exec.

Elop is set to return to Redmond regardless. Microsoft’s $7.2 billion buyout of Nokia’s hardware unit, announced in September, will see him return to the software maker in some capacity, Microsoft has said.

Internal possibilities include Terry Myerson, who leads the operating system group, Satya Nadella, a 21-year veteran who currently heads the key cloud and enterprise unit, executive VP Tami Reller, who leads the Windows business, and devices chief Julie-Larson Green.