Microsoft lost a front-runner for its top job when Alan Mulally, Ford's Chief Executive Officer, announced Tuesday that he plans to stay with the automaker through 2014. "I would like to end the Microsoft speculation because I have no other plans to do anything other than serve Ford," Mulally said in an interview yesterday. Ford spokesman Jay Cooney confirmed the comments.

Ford's chief has been consistent with his plans so far. In a 2012 interview, Mulally said that he intends to stay with Ford through 2014, the busiest year for the No. 2 U.S. automaker. The company is planning to introduce 23 new vehicles this year.

Microsoft has been looking for a replacement ever since its long time CEO Steve Balmer announced his retirement plans in August last year. John Thompson, who is heading the company's search for a new CEO, announced last month that the final decision regarding Steve Ballmer's successor will not be taken until early 2014.

Mulally's announcement has again re-ignited the guessing game of who will take over Microsoft. According to sources familiar with the process, Microsoft is down to a handful of names, including former Nokia CEO Stephen Elop and insiders Satya Nadella and Tony Bates.

"Out of respect for the process and the potential candidates, we don't comment on individual names," a Microsoft spokesman said. In December last year, Qualcomm's Steve Mollenkopf opted out of the race after he was promoted as the CEO of the company.