Stepping into the sweaty shoes of Steve Ballmer was never going to be an easy task. Satya Nadella’s first five years as third CEO of the software giant has brought pain to fans of Microsoft's consumer tech but delight to investors.
For many, Nadella is seen as the axeman, ruthlessly cutting through Redmond's detritus amid the rise of Apple, Google, and others. We at El Reg love a list, so we present our wholly unscientific top five dumpings and hits during Nadella’s tenure to date.
Nadella’s top five prunings at Microsoft
1. Windows Phone
No list would be complete without mentioning Ballmer’s last hurrah – the Nokia purchase. Even with the acquisition completing mere weeks after Nadella took over from the besweated one, the new CEO was quick to wield the axe.
12,500 Nokia staffers were given their papers in July 2014 before the final Lumias put in a belated appearance in 2016.
The rest, alas, is history.
2. Microsoft Band
The Microsoft Band was the software giant’s pitch at the wearables market, arriving in 2014 and surviving long enough to see a second, curvier, version put in an appearance in 2015 before Nadella once again swung his axe in 2016.
Like Microsoft’s phone efforts, the Band was blessed with a thoughtful interface and some innovative thinking in the hardware but, alas, also like the phone, hardware innovation was not enough to stave off an axeman cursed with limited patience when it comes to consumer tech.
3. Groove Music
If a music service that hardly anyone listens to is axed, would anyone notice?
Nadella clearly thought not as 2017 saw the CEO snuff out Groove Music. The last vestige of Redmond’s pitch at an iPod killer, Zune, lost the ability to stream music by the end of the year, with users directed to former rival Spotify.
The Groove app itself still lingers on, a shadow of its former self.
4. Surface Mini
The fate of the Surface Mini (and other shrunken Surface devices that get the fans so excited) is cited as another example of Nadella’s ruthlessness.
While the Surface line has thrived under the CEO’s stewardship, the Mini was a throwback to the Windows RT era – unable to run Win32 apps and lacking the library of the iPad to which it would be compared.
The thing never made it past a limited early production run before the axe was once again wielded.
Microsoft would, of course, have another crack at a diminutive Surface in the form of the Go four years later.
5. Cortana Hardware
Nadella’s latest bit of chopping has been at the neck of Cortana, specifically plans to turn it into a standalone AI assistant appliance, reflecting the CEO’s focus on services rather than hardware.
Cortana itself will live on as a software add-on, but as hardware? Nadella reckoned that with Microsoft trailing some way behind the likes of Amazon and Google, trying for a third platform was pointless and thus his blade once again swung into action.
Of course, Cortana itself will live on, but as a service for other platforms and, significantly, a service lurking within Microsoft’s increasingly important cloud product lines.
Nadella’s top 5 hits
While Nadella has been bad news for fans of the company's consumer products, with the notable exception of the Xbox, for big biz and investors, it has been an exciting five years.
1. The rise of the Cloud
While Microsoft has continued to trail Amazon's AWS platform in terms of market share, Nadella has continued to pour resources into the Windows giant's cloudy compute and storage product, Azure, fueling impressive growth.
The support for Azure should not come as a surprise, seeing as the CEO formerly ran Microsoft’s Cloud and Enterprise group, but what is eye-opening is how much Redmond has come to depend on the increasing revenues from the thing, making up for a decline in the corporation's legacy Windows business.
Now, if only Azure and Office 363 would stop falling over quite so often.
2. Three numbers: 3, 6 and 5
Under Nadella’s watch, Microsoft has had great success in persuading enterprises that piling their eggs into its Microsoft 364 basket is a good idea. This has been done in the face of inroads made by Google into the productivity market the gang at Redmond once considered its own.
The new world at Microsoft for consumer and corporate alike is all about subscriptions rather than perpetual licences, and with rumors continuing to fly about a consumer incarnation of the Microsoft 365 line, Nadella doesn’t look like changing course any time soon.
Even if some country-sized customers might wince at the costs.
Satya Nadella arrived at a time when Microsoft was reeling from the disastrous Nokia purchase, but has set about some buys that have turned out to be strategic wins, even if eye-wateringly expensive at the time. Minecraft has kept the IT titan's toehold in the education market while the rest of the biz wrung its hands in the face of the march of the Chromebook. LinkedIn also proved a canny buy, contributing both revenue and users to the megacorp's platform.
GitHub, the latest megabucks buy, reflects a desire by Microsoft to reconnect with developers, and persuade them that hey – the Beast of Redmond is not quite so beastly these days. It loves Linux, it contributes code to the kernel, it loves open-source, and it loves putting open-source projects on GitHub. Honest. (It just sometimes loves to bend the meaning of the word love, that's all.)
4. Open Source
And those developers continue to benefit from the Nadella era as Microsoft has continued its push into the open source world. Products such as .NET Core and PowerShell Core have thrived under the CEO’s watch, and functionality such as the Windows Subsystem for Linux would have been unthinkable under previous regimes.
The company left jaws on the floor when it cheerfully announced the OS for its take on IoT (in the form of Azure Sphere) would not be a cut down Windows 10 but would, instead, be Linux. Shout out also to the cross-platform free development toolkit Visual Studio Code, which is gaining fans as far as we can tell.
5. Share Price
While many tech giants rode the markets up and down over recent year, Microsoft has managed to avoid a precipitous drop in value after a meteoric rise under Nadella, save for the past few wobbly months.
The diversification of the company under Nadella has transformed it from That Thing That Does Windows And Office to a different creature today. While that change has wrought pain unto the company’s diehard fans, it has clearly made investors – and shareholders – very happy.
As Nadella heads toward his first decade at the helm of the tech titan we can only speculate what treats lie in store as he gradually shifts Microsoft from the D&D fantasy alignment of neutral evil to perhaps true neutral or maybe even lawful neutral.
Also, cough, cough, in the spirit of Microsoft's commitment to open source, may we suggest unleashing the source of Media Center onto the world?
Hit the comments below to let us know your personal Nadella hits and misses. ®