The Microsoft that Satya Nadella inherited was in a state of disarray. Steve Ballmer's tenure had been full of crazy leaps in profit and revenue but very little in the way of consumer-facing innovation.
This strategy would suit a company like Oracle or IBM, which are solely based on the needs of the enterprise market, but for Microsoft it looks more like error than careful strategic judgement on the part of management.
The task that Nadella has inherited is herculean and his success cannot possibly be fully gauged from his first 70 or so days on the job.
However, signs are already emerging from Redmond about the type of leader Nadella is. His part of the main keynote at Microsoft's Build 2014 conference in San Francisco was delivered convincingly. But tellingly there wasn't much drama, something Ballmer was - of course - famous for.
Nadella has reshuffled Microsoft's executive team, removing Mark Penn (the man responsible for the "Scroogled" ad campaign) and introducing Stephen Elop (a one-time contender for the CEO position at Microsoft) as the head of Microsoft's devices division. These moves are bold and can only usher Microsoft into interesting new places, for good or for bad.
Under Nadella, the entire focus of Microsoft is likely to change. In an interview released by Microsoft moments after he was named CEO, Nadella pointed to Microsoft becoming a "mobile first, cloud first" company, investing in software such as Windows Azure and Office 365.
"I would say the first thing I want to do and focus on is ruthlessly remove any obstacles that allow us to innovate. And then focus all that innovation on things that Microsoft can uniquely do," he said. The thing that Microsoft can "uniquely" offer is a selection of productivity apps unparalleled across the field and tie those apps in with their cloud services, which many enterprises rely on.
Working on a dream
Within just 52 days of his appointment as CEO, Nadella unveiled Office for iPad. The suite offers users the ability to view and present documents for free but requires an Office 365 account to edit and create them. The very fact Microsoft is now offering a meaningful Office experience on anything other than Microsoft-controlled environments shows just how different the company could become under Nadella.
Office for iPad was reportedly developed two years ago before being killed by Ballmer. From this announcement we see Nadella's ideas about "mobile first, cloud first" are more than just smoke and mirrors as Microsoft scrambles to find something cling onto beyond enterprise; they represent a meaningful ideology that could propel Microsoft forward.
Office for iPad achieved a top-ten ranking in the majority of countries it launched in with Word receiving over 400 reviews in its first few days. Apple promoted the suite on its front page, driving users to the app and showing just how happy it is to allow Microsoft's services onto iOS.
In slightly more niche news, Microsoft has also introduced OneNote onto the Mac, showing even more clearly just how intent Nadella's company is on integrating with people other than itself. Microsoft is also rumoured to be building tablet-specific apps for their Surface products, and it's telling that they chose to prioritise iOS over Surface.
As Casey Newton of The Verge described it after the Office for iPad event, Microsoft's future "lies in the intersection between work and play." This area is currently up for grabs and could prove vastly popular with both consumers and enterprise.
Over one billion people around the world use Office, that's about one in seven people. To give them the same experience at home and on an iPad as they do on their desktop PC at work could be the seamless edge that Microsoft needs.
Going forward, Nadella will need to make some bold and risky moves. Part of the problem of "old Microsoft" was that the company became risk-averse. While Google and Apple were risking billions of dollars on bets in smartphones, tablets and other areas,
Microsoft was sticking to its guns, living in the glory days. That approach can no longer fly if Microsoft wants to be a driving force in today's "mobile first, cloud first" world.
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