Jon Miller drops out, so who's getting the top online gig at Microsoft?

Former AOL CEO Jon Miller, reportedly Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's favorite to lead the company's new online division, withdrew his name from consideration yesterday because he'll soon be joining Yahoo's board. So if not Miller, who's going to take on the task of saving Microsoft by building its presence on the Web? The top names under consideration:

Candidates for the job who currently work at Microsoft include SVP Yusuf Mehdi, once Microsoft's online chief; Brian McAndrews, the former CEO of Microsoft-acquired aQuantive; SVP Satya Nadella, who runs search engineering, among other responsibilities; and Bill Gates's replacement as chief software architect, Ray Ozzie.

"Yusuf is not an operator and Satya is a possibility but would be a stretch," a source tell us. "I would bet on Brian McAndrews. But McAndrews might not want it as he made serious bank with the sale of aQuantive and may not want to do more than he has to finish his earn out. I mean, what’s the marginal upside for him?"

As for Ozzie, Kara Swisher quotes all kinds of Microsoft developers who hope he'd take the job,but another source tells us: "I think he's got the gig he wants: basically, being a visionary. And he's great at it."

One problem with Ozzie, says our source: "Only thing I've heard so far is [the candidates are] not internal." So scratch Ozzie and the rest off the list!

"My guess is they'd want to poach from Google, for appearance's sake," says our source. He suggested we take a look at ex-Microsoft employee, Mark Lucovsky — head of Google's search APIs. The problem with Lucovsky is that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer might not want to take him back — he reportedly threw a chair when he heard Lucovsky was leaving Microsoft for Google in 2005.

Swisher's Microsoft sources also nominated former Yahoo COO Dan Rosensweig for the job, but a source says: "Dan would never do it given loyalty to Yahoo."

So who's it going to be? The people we talked to gave us the usual boring non-answers — "I imagine Microsoft might take a little time to really look around. There is no massive rush." So we'll suggest another scenario: Why doesn't Microsoft pull a Sandberg?

Sheryl Sandberg was a relatively obscure VP at Google, but she had an important job — overseeing the automated systems that pulled in Google's billions of dollars in advertising revenues.

Our guess: Someone from AOL, possibly Lynda Clarizio, boss of AOL's Platform-A advertising division. Microsoft seems eager to buy AOL —AOL dealmakers met with Microsoft in Seattle last week, and yesterday, AOL started cutting costs in an effort to pretty itself up for a sale — and Clarizio would probably be the top executive to come over in the deal.

AOL CEO Randy Falco wants to get a Hollywood job at Time Warner after putting in his time at AOL. His henchman, Ron Grant, has lost favor of late. Is Clarizio too salesy for the top online job at Microsoft? Probably, but then, there is evidence Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer might not mind.

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