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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.

Technology/product lines: Consumer devices

Microsoft's consumer devices are doing much better than they were six months ago, primarily because Microsoft finally lowered the price and kept it there. Right now, you can buy an Xbox One with Assassins Creed: Black Flag (without a Kinect), and one year of Xbox Live service for $350. That kind of deal led to Xbox One outselling the PS4 over the holidays.

There's hope, so I'm lifting the D grade for consumer devices in the last report card to a C—.

Technology/product lines: Cloud services

Cloud services are going gangbusters for Microsoft — revenue is up more than 100 percent year-to-year — although the company's market share still hovers around 10 percent. Yeah, Amazon Web Services is that much bigger (IBM, at No. 3, is tiny).

Notably, Nadella isn't afraid to spend copious quantities of money building out infrastructure. That's good, because he'll have to run at breakneck speed to keep up. Combined with very competitive pricing and good introductory offers, Azure is on a roll.

Nadella's cloud services grade: A+.

Technology/product lines: Consumer vision

If it weren't for the promised HoloLens virtual-reality headset, Nadella wouldn't be faring well in consumer vision at all. The widely panned Microsoft Band, with its uncomfortable "thermal plastic elastomer with adjustable fit clasp," has had a succession of updates, none adding to its appeal. Yeah, it's sold out, but that's probably because Microsoft didn't make many in the first place.

By contrast, the HoloLens, another Ballmer-initiated project that's now beginning to see light, holds tremendous potential, especially when paired with Minecraft, one of Nadella's big bets.

The announced (but not yet delivered) ability to stream Xbox games onto any Windows 10 device would also rate as a tremendous consumer coup. It's still too early to call that one.

Although Nadella doesn't deserve full credit for HoloLens, he does for Minecraft. Balance it out with the Band nonsense, and I put his consumer vision grade at a B—.

Technology/product lines: Windows vision

With the advent of Windows 10, Nadella's Windows vision is good and getting better. We'll know by his two-year anniversary how well Win10 plays out, but all indications at this point are that it'll do very well indeed. More important than anything else, he and Terry Myerson's Windows crew aren't hiding in a corner.

Although it's unlikely that Microsoft's Universal Apps will be truly universal and you have to wonder why anyone would want a Windows desktop on an Xbox, the thinking behind Windows 10 steers us far clear of the Windows 8 debacle — and may make Windows relevant again.

Nadella's Windows vision grade: a very hopeful B.


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