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Industry profile: Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft

Satya Nadella

In our second industry profile we take a look at what Satya Nadella, Chief Executive Officer of Microsoft, is doing to further the company’s ambitions, especially in relation to Windows 10.

You can read the first article on Apple’s Tim Cook here.

Satya Nadella

Satya Nadella became CEO of Microsoft on 4th February 2014, succeeding Steve Ballmer, who was widely known for his eccentricity and even wacky outbursts at developer conferences.

Before that, he was the Executive Vice President of Microsoft’s Cloud and Enterprise division, responsible for the company’s computing platforms, developer tools and cloud computing cervices. That stood him in good stead to run the company under its new mantra of “mobile-first, cloud-first” computing.

On becoming CEO, those who follow Microsoft believed that one of his key tasks would be to transform the company into a more nimble one that could compete better in the new world dominated by mobile devices. Caught somewhat flat-footed by the success of smartphones, Microsoft has always had a lot to do in order to try and compete with Android and Apple, and hasn’t leveraged its edge in the enterprise as well as it could have done. Today, Windows Phone remains a distant third place smartphone platform, and it will take a huge effort to change that.

But Nadella certainly knows the software industry well – he’s been with the Redmond-based giant for over twenty years, and has vast experience in enterprise and cloud services. Whether this will translate to mobile devices and services, remains to be seen.

“His vision for how technology will be used and experienced around the world is exactly what Microsoft needs”, said Microsoft founder Bill Gates at the time.

Just who is Satya Nadella?

Nadella was born in India – in Hyderabad, India’s tech capital which is often called “Cyberabad”. He appears on the surface to be softly-spoken, quiet and studious, and says that his hobbies are cricket and reading poetry. That’s already a world away from Ballmer.

Before holding the position of CEO at Microsoft, Nadella held the following positions in the company (prior to Microsoft, he worked at Sun Microsystems):

  • President of the Server & Tools Division (9 Feb 2011 – Feb 2014)
  • Senior Vice-President of Research and Development for the Online Services Division (Mar 2007 – Feb2011)
  • Vice-President of the Business Division
  • Corporate Vice-President of Business Solutions and Search & Advertising Platform Group
  • Executive Vice-President of Cloud and Enterprise group

Be passionate and bold. Always keep learning. You stop doing useful things if you don’t learn. So the last part to me is the key, especially if you have had some initial success. It becomes even more critical that you have the learning ‘bit’ always switched on – Satya Nadella

Satya Nadella

Inside Microsoft, Nadella is said to have a good reputation on the strength of his engineering background and heritage. He is also seen as largely responsible for driving Microsoft’s move to the cloud, something that he has promoted to the fore of Microsoft’s strategy since becoming CEO. Ballmer’s “Devices and services” became “cloud-first, mobile first”, which is essentially the same thing but Nadella sounds a lot more convincing when he talks shop.

He’s also not afraid to push Microsoft into developing for other, more successful platforms in the mobile space. Last year he announced Office for Apple’s iPad, a long-overdue version of its office productivity suite that has almost universal adoption on desktop PCs, but not mobile. Those products quickly shot to the top of the Apple charts, with many people claiming they are even better than on Microsoft’s own Surface tablets.

At the company’s Build developer conference, he also outlined his plans for a “one Widows” operating system that would run on phones, tablets, PCs and the Xbox games console. We now know more about how that will be realised in the shape of Windows 10 – a critical part of Microsoft’s future that will take them into the next few years and beyond.

Windows 10 and the future of Microsoft

Satya Nadella

I think reconceptualizing Microsoft as a devices and services company is absolutely what our vision is all about. Office 365 and Azure on the services side are representative of it – Satya Nadella

At the recent Microsoft event “Windows 10: The Next Chapter”, Nadella had a low key role, preferring instead to let others take the limelight. He didn’t in fact appear on stage until very late in the show, but his touch was evident all over the presentation.

RELATED: Microsoft unveils Windows 10 today

Windows 10 could be the most important new product from Microsoft for years. It needs to be, as Windows 8 and 8.1 have failed to make any headway into the dominance of Windows 7, which still has more than 40% share of the market. Windows 8 on the other hand failed to ignite consumer interest and was largely seen as going to far in trying to meld a traditional desktop user interface with a tablet one.

This is how the major operating systems stacked up in the United States from January 2012 until December 2014:

OS Market Share Chart
Source: Statista.com.

 

Windows 10 also reflects the promises that Nadella made in an email to employees last year:

“Across Microsoft, we will obsess over reinventing productivity and platforms. We will relentlessly focus on and build great digital work and life experiences with specific focus on dual use. Our cloud OS infrastructure, device OS and first-party hardware will all build around this core focus and enable broad ecosystems. Microsoft will light up digital work and life experiences in the most personal, intelligent, open and empowering ways.”

Windows 10 underpins all that he hopes to achieve as described above, and when he finally came onstage he outlined his vision for how the new operating system will drive the company forward.

“Our industry’s progress is punctuated by moments of category creation. Windows 10 and holographic computing is one such moment”, he said just after the new HoloLens augmented reality/VR display was introduced.

Satya Nadella

HoloLens, touted as a ‘holographic’ display system (though it’s technically not a holographic display, as that involves the use of a laser, interference, diffraction, light intensity recording and suitable illumination) is considered just another device by Nadella, which is the reason why it was demonstrated at the Windows 10 event. And even as one version of Windows runs on desktop PCs, tablets and phones, it will also provide the brawn behind the HoloLens.

“Windows is the home for the very best Microsoft experiences”, Nadella said, imagining a future where Windows 10 powers a wide variety of devices. “Windows 10 is built for a world where everything, or nearly everything – both at home at work – is digitally mediated

Microsoft HoloLens

Nadella also believes that Windows 10 will enable more people to create and use information, rather than just consume it, and that the Internet of Things presents some fantastic opportunities for Windows.

“You’re generating data about yourself, about your environment, and you want to be able to reason over all of that. Windows 10 ushers in a more personal era of computing in a mobile first, cloud first world“.

Part of the puzzle is for Windows to know a lot more about you personally. He mentioned the powerful capabilities of the personal assistant Cortana, and its ability to learn about you and to suggest contextually-relevant information. Integrating Cortana so deeply into Windows and the new Spartan browser is a bold move, but one that will help tie all of Microsoft’s platforms together with common voice recognition technology.

Nadella’s ambitions for Windows

“The fact that there are 1.5 billion users of Windows is incredible and humbling. It’s a responsibility that none of us at Microsoft take lightly”, he said. “But we have higher hopes, bigger aspirations for Windows”.

The CEO wants people to starting loving Windows rather than simply ‘needing Windows’. That shows he understands the importance of the Microsoft brand much more than Ballmer did. The obvious comparison is Apple – people love the company’s products which increased brand loyalty. Unfortunately, Microsoft hasn’t managed to achieve the same level of dedication amongst consumers, with most of us seeing Windows as a necessity just to get the job done.

Is it even possible to get people to like Windows, never mind love it? That seems like an almost impossible goal that will require a huge change to the mindset of consumers. We won’t necessarily be playing holographic games on HoloLens in a few years, but at least Nadella is aiming high. HoloLens is an ambitious project that has remained hidden in secrecy for several years, according to the Microsoft executives who took the stage last week. It will be the first real test of whether Nadella can restore the company’s reputation for innovation and the ability to come up with groundbreaking experiences.

Nadella certainly brings fresh ideas and style to the role of CEO, combining the experiences he gained over two decades at Microsoft with modern ideas and a nice-guy attitude.

“He has allowed ideas to bloom and be considered” says Terry Myerson, the executive in charge of Windows. “That’s hard to do with big groups of people“.

By Roland Banks

Roland Banks has been passionate about mobile technology for the past 20 years. He started his career at British Telecom's research division working on collaborative virtual reality environments, before becoming a video streaming specialist at 3 UK where he helped launch some of the world's first mobile video services. More recently he enjoys writing about his obsession, and developing software that helps mobile operators analyse their subscriber data.

Roland has lived in Asia for the past 5 years, and tries to indulge his other passion for riding motorcycles whenever possible.

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