It's back-to-school time for Satya Nadella, Microsoft's new CEO.
He may have an engineering degree and an MBA, but by his own admission, he needs to learn the parts of Microsoft's business outside of his own former fiefdom in cloud and enterprise products. He needs remedial training in the consumer subject areas: Windows Phone and Xbox. He could also use refreshers in Microsoft's consumer online services and Bing (which he once oversaw).
As the lone survivor of what was apparently a grueling interview process, Nadella has presumably already aced some tests — behind closed doors. He has yet to answer a single public question on his plans for Microsoft, though. Eventually he'll be quizzed by Wall Street, analysts, and a business publication or two. It's unlikely, however, that he'll respond directly to his biggest constituency: we, the people who buy and use his company's products.
Whether he ever answers us directly, these are the seven questions he should cram on if he hopes to earn top grades from consumers.
1. Is Windows 8 fixable?
The short answer is: of course. And the other short answer is: of course not. And that's because we still have a schizophrenic break between the Live Tiles and its tablet-y interface, and the more familiar desktop. For many users, this isn't a problem: They can hop back and forth at the push of a (Windows) button. But Nadella has a chance to come in, roll up his sleeves, and say, "Let's solve this problem." (Honestly, if the upcoming Windows 8.1 update boots directly to the desktop for non-touch devices, this will alleviate many concerns.)
Naturally, one can't blame Nadella for the current look and feel. Nor can we expect a quick fix, if a change is made. But let's hope that Nadella takes the time to leave the ivory tower of the Microsoft campus to chat with actual Windows users, understand their concerns, and seriously think about what Windows 8 is in the context of the next question:
2. Why should I continue to buy Windows?
The question I really want to ask is, "What is Windows, and what will it look like in ten years?" But we can't get ahead of ourselves.
In the office, I think Microsoft's message of a PC as an engine of productivity is defensible, but its credibility diminishes the more users are exposed to the Web. I went for the better part of a year working on a Google-powered Chromebook, and I missed Windows only when it came time to play a game. But Windows Phones and Surface tablets have obvious holes that need filling, apps especially.
Microsoft needs to solve the intersection of Windows Phone and Windows, although that's a thorny question, too. No way does anyone want to try and navigate the Windows desktop on a phone, but business customers have pushed back against using the Metro environment when they don't need to. How do you propose traversing those two environments, Satya?
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