Foley on Microsoft

Can the New Microsoft CEO Fix Windows?

Microsoft's third-ever CEO Satya Nadella took over last month. While at press time he hadn't yet revealed a detailed agenda, Nadella is known as a strong proponent of the One Microsoft reorg and strategy and will stick with it.

On the Windows side of the house, One Microsoft means "One Windows" -- to the extent it is possible. I'd be surprised if Nadella orders Windows chief Terry Myerson to shift gears. Myerson and his team have said they're working to meld Windows, Windows Phone and the Xbox One OSes into a cohesive whole, with a shared set of development tools, programming interfaces, UI elements and services.

The road to One Windows is not a smooth and straight one. The Windows team is currently consumed with trying to undo some missteps made by the original Windows 8 development team. Windows 8.1 Update 1 will attempt to make the OS more palatable to users who prefer to navigate Windows with a mouse -- a group the Windows 8 development team seemingly forgot.

In many ways, Windows 8.1 Update 1 on non-touch machines will be similar to the Windows 7.5 release many of us called on Microsoft to deliver. It took two years of tepid acceptance and internal politics before the Windows team could make it happen. Windows 9, code-named "Threshold," is supposedly not coming until spring 2015. But one of its primary rumored new features will be the ability to run Windows Store apps in floating windows on the desktop, another nod to Microsoft's formidable installed base.

My bet is Nadella -- who previously headed the Microsoft Cloud & Enterprise group -- will fully back anything that will appeal to enterprises and IT pros. Does that mean he'll stick his head in the sand and ignore the touch-first/touch-centric world that Windows 8 was built to address? I think he'll be more realistic in acknowledging Microsoft got too far ahead of its customers and developers with Windows 8.

Andrew Laurence, a systems analyst for the Office of Information Technology at the University of California Irvine, said in a post on his Piecework blog last month that Windows 8 was "not the product of hubris," but of a series of miscalculations. Among them, he noted, Microsoft miscalculated the market was ready for a touch-centric UI on traditional PCs while anticipating most new PC hardware would include touch screens. Microsoft also wrongly presumed touch would be primary and mouse/keyboard a diminishing secondary input vehicle and didn't expect so many enterprise customers and developers to pass on the new OS.

I'd argue Microsoft made some parallel miscalculations with Windows Phone. Specifically, as with Windows 8, the Windows Phone team decided to build an OS that was focused on consumer needs and largely ignored business-user requirements. With Windows Phone 8.1, due to be released to manufacturing in the next month or so, the Windows Phone team will be introducing a number of enterprise-specific features, including encryption and VPN support. Those features won't get top billing -- that will be reserved for more consumer features like "Cortana," Microsoft's alternative to Apple's Siri and Google Now, and a new built-in notification center. But their existence could make Windows Phone-based devices more viable to business users, an audience to which Microsoft catered with Windows Mobile and ignored with Windows Phone.

Do I think an enterprise-savvy guy like Nadella will be in favor of more of an enterprise focus for Windows Phone? I do, indeed.

Though we haven't heard it from the CEO's mouth, my guess is Nadella's plan to fix Windows is to allow the fixers to continue their work to undo the miscalculations of the past couple of years. Microsoft needs a mobile strategy that plays to the company's unique software-­centric strengths, rather than trying to ape Apple and Google strategies.

About the Author

Mary Jo Foley is editor of the ZDNet "All About Microsoft" blog and has been covering Microsoft for about two decades. She's the author of "Microsoft 2.0" (John Wiley & Sons, 2008), which examines what's next for Microsoft in the post-Gates era.


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