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Satya Nadella at one year: Grading Microsoft's CEO

Woody Leonhard | Feb. 5, 2015
Make no mistake: A year after he succeeded Steve Ballmer in the job, CEO Satya Nadella firmly controls Microsoft's fate.

Make no mistake: A year after he succeeded Steve Ballmer in the job, CEO Satya Nadella firmly controls Microsoft's fate.

Nadella took office on Feb. 4, 2014, and his early reign was handcuffed by Ballmer-era inertia — and Ballmer-era flubs, particularly around mobile devices.

By about the six-month mark, Microsoft starting showing signs of shaking off the Ballmer rust. InfoWorld's six-month review of Nadella found him strong on financials, middling on Microsoft "meat and potatoes" (Windows and Office), and promising in his clear emphasis on the cloud.

Today, Microsoft is still saddled with a two-faced incarnation of Windows and a mobile portfolio few could envy. But with Windows 10 rolling forward, as well as the combination of Office 365 and Azure a vital and successful focus for the company, Nadella's stamp on Microsoft is now more clearly drawn.

Where does Microsoft stand under Nadella, and what's in store for the technology giant in the years ahead? Let our review of Nadella's first year at the helm be your guide.

Rising from the ashes

Two years ago, then-CEO (and current Fergie fan) Ballmer laid the foundation of the "devices and services" aberration in Microsoft's long-term plans. Nadella was hit with the most painful consequence of Ballmer's folly: the sad demise of Nokia as we knew it, and the concomitant firing of 18,000 employees, 13,000 from Nokia.

Although "devices and services" might've proved innovative early in this decade, the concept sounds like something your nerdy uncle would've dreamed up. Nadella has gone to great lengths to never openly criticize "devices and services," but clearly he's incinerated the concept and coaxed Microsoft into its next phase.

Nadella came up with a completely different approach — mobile first, cloud first, Windows best (when it's finally ready) — that's struck a resounding chord. As a longtime Windows wonk, I find it hard to admit it, but the push to put Microsoft products on every platform has suddenly made Microsoft a player in an increasingly platform-agnostic world.

Leadership: Strategic vision

Microsoft's come a long way from "Windows on every desktop" to "Windows, what's that?" Seriously, if Microsoft had waited for Windows to catch up, we'd all be running Office on iPads, Android tablets, and maybe even Raspberry Pis. The painful recasting of Windows as merely another platform has many longtime Windows users fuming — "why do iPad and Android get Office before us?" they cry — but in the end, Office and Windows both need to stand on their own two feet or, as befits cash cows, four legs.

Nadella hasn't abandoned Windows. Speaking at the Windows 10 Tech Preview event on Jan. 21, he said, "We have bigger hopes, higher aspirations for Windows. We want to move from people needing Windows to choosing Windows, to loving Windows. That is our bold goal."


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