Nadella leaves no doubt about who is in charge in first six months as CEO

He's had his share of hits and misses but he's made his presence felt from the start

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"Give away the Windows runtime to drive adoption? Check. Release a native Office app for Apple's iPad? Check. Support Git and other popular continuous delivery tools on Azure? Check. These and other Nadella actions ensure that Microsoft's fortunes will improve," they wrote.

While the vision is pretty clear, the question is whether the execution will be on target, according to Gartner analyst Merv Adrian. "Microsoft now needs to drive its vision into everyday familiarity; people need to know what this will mean to them," he said via email. "The execution will manifest itself in marketing communications, pricing, and how it manages its salesforce. All of those are work in progress and hard to assess at this point."

A departure from Ballmer

With his business acumen, Ballmer was the right CEO for his time, but with the mobility and cloud computing revolution, Microsoft now needs someone with the technology edge and vision that Bill Gates had, according to En Pointe's Hogan.

Ballmer was bashed during his last years for not responding quickly and effectively enough to the explosion in smartphone and tablet adoption, and to the popularity of cloud computing, in particular software-as-a-service (SaaS).

"At the start of the Ballmer years, Microsoft looked like an innovation company. At the end of the Ballmer years, it looked more like a sales and marketing company," said David Johnson, a Forrester Research analyst, via email.

While Ballmer harvested the success of past innovation through sales and marketing efforts and via a "fast-follower" development strategy, Nadella is setting the stage for new innovation and a quest for leadership, which is a return to Microsoft's philosophical roots, according to Johnson.

Embracing a cross-platform approach

Nadella has been credited with leaving no doubt that under his command, the "Windows first" philosophy of protecting the OS franchise at all costs to other products is no longer in place.

Nadella's first major launch as CEO was the native Office apps for Apple's iPad, a move that Ballmer seemed, for a long time, reluctant to make, possibly out of fear it would hurt Windows and to a lesser extent the fledgling Surface tablets.

Coming less than two months after Nadella's appointment, it's obvious the project had been in progress under Ballmer, but many observers assumed that the new CEO made the endeavor a top priority, and they also praised him for whole-heartedly endorsing a cross-platform approach for Microsoft desktop, server and cloud software.

"What motivates us is to make sure that we build the great experiences that span the digital life and digital work of our customers, both individually and as organizations. And that's what you can count on us doing, both with Windows as well as other platforms," Nadella said at an event in San Francisco in late March.

Flying high with cloud products, but open to co-opetition deals

Microsoft tied the Office apps for iPad to a subscription for Office 365, which is one of the products Nadella is most excited about. In his view it exemplifies the future of the company, along with Azure, Microsoft's set of cloud computing offerings.

He's also gung-ho about Dynamics CRM Online, the cloud version of the company's CRM software, but that didn't stop him from brokering an eyebrow-raising partnership with CRM rival Salesforce.com in May.

The deal, which calls for Salesforce.com's CRM software to be integrated with Microsoft's Windows OS, Azure cloud computing platform and Office suite, was needed to respond to the demands of the companies' mutual customers, Nadella said. He added that Microsoft will pursue similar "co-opetition" partnerships intended to make life easier for Microsoft customers.

Under Nadella, Microsoft has also been right smack in the middle of the consumer and enterprise cloud storage arms race, aggressively pushing its OneDrive and OneDrive for Business services against those from Google, Box, Dropbox and other rivals.

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