Steve Ballmer has been cashing in his chips. The Microsoft chief executive sold a total of 49.3 million shares in the company over three days last week, reaping himself around $1.3 billion. It was Ballmer's first stock sale in seven years, and cut his stake in the firm by approximately 12 percent. Coming just days before the release of Microsoft's Windows Phone 7, the move was read by some as either a lack of confidence in the firm, or evidence that he was about to leave. Ballmer commented only that his unloading of stock was a "personal financial matter." Is he about to cash out?

Ballmer may be copying Bill Gates: On paper, it sounds "preposterous" that Ballmer would leave now, says Woody Leonhard at InfoWorld. Microsoft's financials are strong, Windows Phone 7 is getting good reviews, and its Kinect gaming device will be a "runaway Christmas hit." But Bill Gates "launched his departure strategy with a significant sell-of of Microsoft stock" back in 2000, and the recent exit of chief software architect Ray Ozzie could signal "a precursor to Steve B's exit strategy."
"Will Ballmer bail after banking big bucks?"

He still has the desire to win: The timing is suspicious, says Preston Gralla in Computer World, but "I don't expect the sale means Ballmer is leaving." Given the the chief executive is "one of the most competitive people in the business world," he'll want to be there for the launch of Windows Phone 7. The timing of the sale is "just another example of his tone-deafness when it comes to public relations."
"Ballmer sells $1.3 billion of Microsoft stock. Does he know something we don't?"

It's a tax avoidance measure: President Obama may still compromise on his tax rise for those earning over $250,000, says John C. Abell at Wired, but "it's not worth the gamble for people like Ballmer who have a lot of net worth tied up in stock." With the long-term capital gains tax likely to rise before January, dumping stock now seems like a "very sane bet."
"Steve Ballmer cashes in some Microsoft chips — nothing to see here."