Microsoft is in the process of narrowing down potential candidates to fill the soon-to-be vacant role of CEO when Steve Ballmer steps down. That list, which initially stood at 40, currently contains about five names including some we've heard before like Ford chief Alan Mulally and ex-Nokia CEO Stephen Elop according to a report from Reuters.

As we've outlined in the past, Mulally has served as the CEO of Ford since 2006 and recently advised Ballmer on Microsoft's corporate reorganization plans that went into effect this past summer. Elop, meanwhile, was the head of Microsoft's business division through 2010 when he took over as CEO of Nokia. If you recall, Microsoft revealed plans to purchase Nokia's handset business a few months ago which prompted Elop to take a lesser role as executive vice president of devices and services.

Microsoft is also said to be considering at least three people from within the company for the position including head of the Cloud and Enterprise group Satya Nadella and former Skype chief Tony Bates. The identity of the third party went unreported.

Ballmer announced intentions to retire within a year this past August although he isn't planning to do so until a successor is named. How long that might take, however, is unclear. Today's report mentioned it could take a few more months before Microsoft makes the pick. Previous reports, however, suggested Redmond wanted to wrap the search up before the end of the year.