Microsoft's Man from the Cloud


After all the blog posts and the months of waiting, I thought I’d have something to write within minutes of Microsoft announcing its new CEO. But my immediate reaction wasn’t much, so I let the news sink in a while and did some more background reading before saying anything. I know that’s no way to blog, but sometimes these things happen.


So by now you know the news that Redmond hired from inside, Satya Nadella the former head of their Cloud and Enterprise division. Microsoft is good at that stuff, which speaks well of Nadella. Or as John Gruber wrote, “Nadella’s Server division is the one part of Microsoft that seems designed for, and part of, the post-iOS, post-Android state of the industry. A division pushing toward the future, not the past.” Or as my buddy and Longtime Sharp VodkaPundit Reader™ Greg Hill emailed to remind me:

I called this hire late last year in one of your posts. This is the only group that actually knows what the hell they’re doing. I think he’s the perfect choice. If Ballmer and Gates keep their noses out of his business, then I think he’s going to take Microsoft in some interesting and potentially dynamite directions.

Agreed. But big Ifs though are Ballmer and to a greater extent, Gates.

Ballmer might prove to be a spent force at the company he helmed for 14 years. There’s nobody better than he at milking existing cash cows, but most of his forays into new businesses — Bing, Surface, Windows Phone — have turned out to be money pits. Even Xbox, which has made some nice profits, probably isn’t actually profitable after deducting for all the R&D and marketing expenses. The Xbox One’s confused launch isn’t likely to help with that. Ballmer might hang around the office still, but is anyone going to pay much heed to the sweaty loudmouth who missed the boat luxury yacht on mobile computing?


Figuring out what Bill Gates will do is trickier.

He’s out as Chairman of the Board, which is a good thing. John Thompson has the job now, after serving as the lead on the CEO hunt. This is all nothing but good news for the company. But Gates will reportedly spend three days a week in Redmond — doing what? It’s a lot more difficult to ignore the Richest Man in the World™ who brought his company to total dominance, than it is to ignore his replacement who pissed that dominance away.

So will Nadella have the freedom he needs to do what must be done, or will Gates continue pulling strings from behind (and maybe from not-so-behind) the scenes? Or will he serve as a three-day-a-week mentor to Nadella before gracefully leaving the scene? I’ve read rumors that Gates and Ballmer wanted to hire from inside the company — because an outsider CEO might do things a little too differently for their tastes. And while Nadella was a great pick, certainly the best from within Microsoft, he comes with two caveats. The first is that Ballmer’s antics drove pretty much every other serious contender out of Redmond over the last few years. The second is that insider status and the amount of free rein he’ll be allowed.


I don’t mean to be a doomsayer. Nadella might be exactly what MS needs. There’s just no way of knowing until we see what moves he makes, or if he looks like he’s being undercut by the company’s founders.


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