Microsoft: Thank Ballmer, not Nadella, for Office for iPad go-ahead

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has gotten kudos for launching Office for the iPad, but the company now says that former CEO Steve Ballmer was the one who really gave the go-ahead. Does this mean Nadella should get no credit?

Before Microsoft released Office for the iPad late last month, there were many months -- years, really -- of public and private debate over whether the company would actually pull the trigger and do it. There were many within the company who wanted to hold off, thinking that if Office was only available for Windows tablets, that would help Windows tablets compete against the iPad and Android tablets. Many others thought that Microsoft would forgo billions in revenue by not releasing it.

As recently as mid-February, a little more than a month before the eventual release, Tami Reller, Microsoft's chief of marketing, hinted that Microsoft would not be releasing it.

On March 27, Nadella held a press conference at which Office for the iPad was announced. Office apps were available that day on Apple's App Store. They've been spectacularly successful since then, with an estimated 12 million downloads, and are among the most popular apps in the App Store.

Nadella justifiably has gotten a lot of credit for the move. But today, when Microsoft's Office for iPad team answered questions on Reddit they had this to say about whether Nadella or Ballmer was responsible for it:

The decision to ship Office for iPad was made before Satya became CEO. Steve Ballmer approved the plan to ship Office for iPad. -- Kaberi, Technical Product Manager, Office for iPad

That's as clear as can be. However, does that really mean that Nadella should get none of the credit? In fact, he should get plenty of credit. Once he took over as CEO, all decisions became his, even those that Ballmer had made previously. He's not there just to rubber stamp everything that Ballmer did, but to make decisions on his own. Nadella took over the reins on February 4, more than a month and a half before the Office for iPad announcement. He had plenty of time to kill it if he wanted.

In addition, the Office for iPad team didn't say anything about when Ballmer would have released Office for the iPad. Would he have waited until the touch version of Office for Windows 8 shipped? The team didn't say.

So yes, Ballmer deserves credit for giving the go-ahead for Office for the iPad when he was still CEO. But once he left, the ultimate decision was Nadella's. And he made the right one.

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