One thing's for sure: we'll certainly miss keynote dances and chants of, "Developers! Developers! Developers!" when Steve Ballmer steps down from his job as the head of Microsoft some time within the next 12 months -- no matter who the John Thompson-chaired succession committee picks to fill his shoes. There aren't a ton of details regarding the decision at the moment -- though a press release issued by the company (which you can find in all of PR speak glory below) is certainly positioning the move as voluntary on Ballmer's part, stating that the exec, "has decided to retire."
No direct replacement has been lined up, and as such, he'll remain on-board as CEO until the committee finds the right person. Along with Thompson, Bill Gates, Chuck Noski and Steve Luczo will also take part in the search. Gates had some nice things to say about his successor and old pal, "We're fortunate to have Steve in his role until the new CEO assumes these duties." For his part, Ballmer continues to sound bullish when it comes to the company's future, "there is never a perfect time for this type of transition, but now is the right time. We have embarked on a new strategy with a new organization and we have an amazing Senior Leadership Team. My original thoughts on timing would have had my retirement happen in the middle of our company's transformation to a devices and services company. We need a CEO who will be here longer term for this new direction."
Update: Well, ask and ye shall receive. Just like that, Microsoft has revealed Ballmer's "internal email" to the staff. We've included that below, just under the aforementioned press release. The opening of the letter is comprised of the same quote Microsoft issued in this morning's release, as well as, interestingly, a link to press release itself. Ballmer goes on to praise current senior leadership and adds that the company has managed to balloon from "$7.5 million to nearly $78 billion," since the 30 staff member days when he first joined up. The note doesn't shed much more additional light on any future plans, though the executive does add that he will "[continue] as one of Microsoft's largest owners." The exit, he explains is "emotional" and "difficult." No doubt there will be much dancing and shouting in the months to come.
Update 2: The Seattle Times scored interviews with Ballmer and Thompson, revealing a couple of tidbits. First, Thompson notes that the CEO will, indeed, have some input on choosing his successor. In fully reflective mode, Ballmer (not shockingly, perhaps) admits that Vista was his biggest disappointment during his tenure. He also added that he plans to stay in Seattle post-retirement, so that tropical island paradise will have to wait. Also, as plenty have noted before us, the Wall Street reaction to news has been been initially fairly positive, so read into that what you will.