Unexpected. Shocker. Wow.

Those are just a few of the adjectives flying across Twitter this morning as folks talked about Ben Affleck appearing as the next Batman!

OK – all kidding aside – they are actually the reactions of people from all over the world as news broke very early on the west coast that Steve Ballmer, who took over as CEO at Microsoft in 2000 when Bill Gates stepped down, has told the company and the world that he will retire within the next 12 months.

To say this was completely out of left field would be an understatement as it has caught the tech press off guard as well as Microsoft employees themselves who seem to be learning this news at the same time we all are.

The nearly 100,000 Microsoft employees heard the news straight from the outgoing CEO’s own email account:

I am writing to let you know that I will retire as CEO of Microsoft within the next 12 months, after a successor is chosen. There is never a perfect time for this type of transition, but now is the right time. My original thoughts on timing would have had my retirement happen in the middle of our transformation to a devices and services company focused on empowering customers in the activities they value most. We need a CEO who will be here longer term for this new direction. You can read the press release on Microsoft News Center.  This is a time of important transformation for Microsoft. Our new Senior Leadership team is amazing. The strategy we have generated is first class. Our new organization, which is centered on functions and engineering areas, is right for the opportunities and challenges ahead. Microsoft is an amazing place. I love this company. I love the way we helped invent and popularize computing and the PC. I love the bigness and boldness of our bets. I love our people and their talent and our willingness to accept and embrace their range of capabilities, including their quirks. I love the way we embrace and work with other companies to change the world and succeed together. I love the breadth and diversity of our customers, from consumer to enterprise, across industries, countries, and people of all backgrounds and age groups. I am proud of what we have achieved. We have grown from $7.5 million to nearly $78 billion since I joined Microsoft, and we have grown from employing just over 30 people to almost 100,000. I feel good about playing a role in that success and having committed 100 percent emotionally all the way. We have more than 1 billion users and earn a great profit for our shareholders. We have delivered more profit and cash return to shareholders than virtually any other company in history. I am excited by our mission of empowering the world and believe in our future success. I cherish my Microsoft ownership, and look forward to continuing as one of Microsoft’s largest owners.  This is an emotional and difficult thing for me to do. I take this step in the best interests of the company I love; it is the thing outside of my family and closest friends that matters to me most. Microsoft has all its best days ahead. Know you are part of the best team in the industry and have the right technology assets. We cannot and will not miss a beat in these transitions. I am focused and driving hard and know I can count on all of you to do the same. Let’s do ourselves proud. Steve

Ballmer has been criticized much during his tenure as Microsoft’s CEO but revenues have moved in no other direction but up during the last 13 years peaking at over $77 billion this year.

Of course everyone will focus on the two major write downs the company has had during the Ballmer era and focus on those missteps.

The first was the Xbox 360 Red Ring of Death issue that cost the company over $1 billion dollars to extend warranties and repair defective machines. The most recent was the Surface RT write down of $900 million because the company miscalculated demand for the devices and built too many of them.

There are also some hardware device choices that have not done so well during the last 13 years such as the Zune and of course the ill fated Kin.

So be prepared for the flood of stories telling you who should or should not be the next Microsoft CEO and why they should or should not be the CEO because they are most certainly coming.

Also be ready for the inevitable Bill Gates Should Return as Microsoft CEO stories because I am sure many tech sites, financial advisors, tech guru’s and most anyone else with an opinion have them written and just need to tweak them slightly for publication.

Maybe they can make this a reality TV show – The Search for Microsoft’s Next CEO – Hosted by Mary Jo Foley and Paul Thurrott.

It could happen.