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Satya Nadella at six months: Grading Microsoft's new CEO

Woody Leonhard | Aug. 5, 2014
The future emerging for Microsoft under Nadella is a mixed bag of hope and turmoil.

The day after the bloodletting was announced, Microsoft took a hatchet to its "external staff" — contractors/second-class citizens who do much of the work around the place. And I certainly haven't heard about a reduction in Microsoft's demand for H-1B visas.

Human resources' grade: F.

Pimping products
One of the clearest signs that Nadella gets it? Releasing Office on iPad before there's a finger-friendly version for Windows. Yes, Office for iPad was developed under Ballmer — but Ballmer didn't have the cojones (or perhaps the opportunity) to get it out before it turned stale. Thirty-five million downloads can't all be wrong.

Now we even have Skype and OneNote on's hardware. And just this past Friday, Microsoft revealed that the new version of mobile Internet Explorer would render websites in the same way iOS Safari and Firefox do, because the iOS approach is how users expect the Web to work. Talk about seeing the world as it is, as a collection of vendor platforms.

Platform agnosticism, the antithesis of "Windows first," is Microsoft's best bet in an era where the term "Windows" has turned into a marketing liability, if not an epithet.

Platform support grade: A.

In spite of the bean counters' rigged reports, the Surface tablet is a disaster. Much of the problem can be attributed to Ballmer's watch, but the recent reports of Surface Pro 3 glitches have Nadella written in the margin. At least Nadella didn't release a Windows RT-only version of the Surface Mini.

The Surface Pro 3 is getting good reviews, and it may have a future, but it's far from the success story Microsoft needs to build a hardware division.

Enterprise device grade: C—.

And Xbox? Puh-lease. Drop Kinect, lower the price by a hundred bucks (both actions taken on Nadella's watch), crow about how your sales have doubled in one month — then discover that Sony's PS4 still outsold the Xbox.

Consumer device grade: D.

Azure, Office 365, Dynamics CRM, SQL Server, and Hyper-V, by contrast, are firing on all cylinders. Rumors of Windows 365 and a massive investment in cloud development environments all show that Nadella knows where his future bread is buttered. And the environment is feeding on itself: Office 365 drives Azure Active Directory, Enterprise Mobility, Azure Intelligence Service, with much more in the pipeline. Well planned and executed — Nadella's been running this show for a long time.

Cloud services grade: A+ (even if AWS is still the 800-pound gorilla in the market).

Nadella couches Microsoft's foray into future markets by blurring the line between fun and work:

Productive people and organizations are the primary drivers of individual fulfillment and economic growth, and we need to do everything to make the experiences and platforms that enable this ubiquitous. We will think of every user as a potential 'dual user' — people who will use technology for their work or school and also deeply use it in their personal digital life. ... Microsoft will push into all corners of the globe to empower every individual as a dual user.


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