Fortune is having a nice old time peering into the crystal ball lately. First there was the lengthy gaze into Bill Gates' future after retiring from his regular spot at Microsoft. Then there were discussions of the post-Gates present and future of Microsoft in the hands of CEO Steve Ballmer, which suggested the timing of Gates' exit may be cleverly timed:
This spring Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500), led by Ballmer, failed to consummate a big deal with Yahoo (YHOO, Fortune 500), which it now seems to have pushed into the arms of archrival Google (GOOG, Fortune 500). Last year's rollout of the latest version of Windows, called Vista, was a public relations and consumer marketing disaster. The rest of the software industry, meanwhile, is either supporting its products with advertising, like Google, or starting to rent them as online services. Microsoft has yet to gain traction in either business.
... To a lot of consumers out there, Microsoft really does seem like that bumbling nebbish played by Daily Show contributor John Hodgman.
But Steve Ballmer v. Steve Jobs just doesn't sound right -- not much of a fair fight, really -- and in a bit of cynicism inspired partially by all the buzz lately about Jobs' health and appearance, Fortune looks forward and projects who it thinks might be the next CEO of Apple if Jobs were, for any reason, to leave the company, following fellow tech titan Gates into retirement.
Fortune lists 11 possibilities to take over for Jobs should he step down in the near future, including Tony Fadell, senior vice president of the iPod division.
With his American swagger and his hair bleached white, Fadell stood out at button-down Philips Electronics, where he led an in-house pirate operation designing Windows CE-based devices. It was there that he came up with the idea of marrying a Napster-like music store with a hard drive-based MP3 player. He shopped the concept around the Valley before Apple's Jon Rubenstein snapped it up and put Fadell in charge of the engineering team that built the first iPod. Now he runs the hardware division that makes two of Apple's three key product lines: the iPod and the iPhone. Ambitious and charismatic (and no longer a bleached blond), "Fadell is the man if SJ gets to pick (his successor)," says 9to5Mac's Cleve Nettles.