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Satya Nadella, Who’s Next at Microsoft

It appears that Satya Nadella is everything Steve Ballmer is not, or so it seems at first blush. It’s hard to remember what Microsoft was like before Ballmer, at least for me. He didn’t lead at Microsoft. Most times he reminded me of a charging storm trooper, shooting first and asking questions later.

Ballmer rarely asked questions. You did what he said or you did the unemployment line. Friends at Microsoft have told me of such abrupt firings, even at the executive level. No one was warned or privy to the change ahead…the next day there would be a new name plate on someone’s door. The attitude from above? Deal with it.

Who's next at Microsoft, Satya NatellaFrom jumping out of cakes to running through the stands in Safeco Field, high fiving people as he ran by, Ballmer ran Microsoft as if his force of will and energy would create the magic.

Obviously it did not create the magic.

I have close friends that work at Microsoft, so I’m careful what evil I wish upon Redmond. The general consensus from my Microsoft friends is a collective sigh of relief. When Steve Ballmer would hold a meeting or spoke at a large employee function, to some his antics were embarrassing. It seemed that he was the only one in the speaking hall that didn’t realize he was embarrassing himself. “It was embarrassing to watch,” my friend Mike

My friend Mike worked for Nadella in his previous role and thinks he’s a great fit. The future for Microsoft is in the cloud and Mike was far from confident that Ballmer could lead them where they needed to go. “We were literally afraid of losing our jobs due to layoffs caused by decreased expectations by Wall Street. We’re at a turning point and this is no time to have a buffoon running the show.”

It’s no secret that to many Microsoft has been, or is, considered to be the “Evil Empire”. Their predatory pricing tactics for cutting out the middle man is well documented. And of course, we have the Microsoft recipe for competitor destruction/assimilation–embrace, extend and extinguish.

OEMs have their own issues with Microsoft. OEMs traditionally manufactured the hardware and purchased Microsoft licenses to ready the hardware for sale. But from as far back as 2012, OEMs saw Microsoft becoming an OEM themself and becoming a direct competitor instead of a business partner, as pointed out by Techpinions:

“Since the days of DOS, Microsoft has never crossed the line and competed with its own PC customers in PCs, the HPs, Dells, Toshibas, and Lenovos of the world. When Microsoft got into Xbox, their customers did not want to get into that market. The only major friction point was discussion around Microsoft under-investing and deprioritizing PC gaming in lieu of Xbox game investments. When Microsoft launched Zune, PC OEMS did participate in the PMP market, but the Zune took the premium spot and left some differentiation room for its OEMs.”

But that in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, for the Linuxphere at least. Since the Windows 8 debacle, long time OEM partners with Microsoft are looking elsewhere to shore up falling PC sales. Companies like HP and Dell are cranking out their version of Chromebook. And of course, Steam made a huge announcement when it became obvious people were not rushing out to purchase Windows 8 accompanied by the Surface device.

“A success for Surface means the destruction of the OEM ecosystem and turning into another Apple. I’m not sure consumers and businesses really want another Apple, one walled garden is enough — and at least Apple’s walled garden is highly customer focused and has a good history of supporting products long after their sales lifecycle.

“Conversely, in the consumer space, Microsoft has a reputation for abandoning technologies and customers when it suits them, so they are going to have to make a huge effort in changing their spots if they are truly committed to being a hardware manufacturer.”

– Jason Perlow, ZDNet, June 28, 2012

The new guy at Microsoft has stepped into a role where he is perceived as the new ship’s captain who has to right the off course ship. The bigger the ship, the wider the turning radius. It will be interesting to see what Nadella has in mind. From what I see, the only thing keeping Microsoft from a pending business failure is the huge cash pile on which they sit, as well as their Office products and the server side of their business. Of course, making one and a half billion dollars a year from licensing deals with various Android entities helps. Still, I think Mr. Nadella has his hands full. In my circles, it’s perceived that Nadella will be the only hope of bringing desktop computing back into relevance.

With Gates still skulking around 1 Microsoft Way, I don’t think Nadella will have the opportunity to do any real work with the open source community. Maybe by beginning a conversation that starts out with, “OK…so let’s take a look at those 235 patents you keep talking about.”

So, we are what…two off from the original CEO of Microsoft? How does a Bill Gates presence have a thing to do with the current goings on in Redmond? A lot more than you think.

Bill Gates is not going away. If anything, he’ll be stepping down as board chairman and into a different role that brings him closer to center than he’s ever been. I mean, since he “retired.”

“As Nadella takes over as CEO co-founder Bill Gates steps down as chairman today; his new official title is founder and technology adviser. ‘I’m thrilled that Satya has asked me to step up, substantially increasing my time at the company,’ says Gates in a video commenting on Nadella’s new position. ‘I’ll have over a third of my time available to meet with product groups and it’ll be fun to define this next round of products working together.'”

– Jacob Kastrenakes, The Verge, February 4, 2014

If you want my tin foil hat opinion, I think Nadella had to agree to this “advisor role” for Gates as a condition of his promotion. I believe this condition was ironed out in the board room long before it was announced that anyone would assume the top spot at Microsoft.

I’m just sayin’…

We’ll have to see how that goes, especially with Gates looking over the shoulder of the new CEO. The talk is that Microsoft will even release it’s own open source operating system. To me, I’m not quite sure how this will benefit Microsoft. Maybe by competing on a like platform with Google? We’ll see.

I’ll give two to one odds that Gates has a big executive desk at MS within a year. As long as Gates has a presence in Microsoft, the silly sniping and patent threats will continue. We don’t know much about Nadella’s opinions on FOSS, but within the friendly confines of our FOSS philosophies does it really matter?

Remember, after only one year as CEO of Microsoft, Steve Ballmer labeled Linux as a cancer.

“Microsoft CEO and incontinent over-stater of facts Steve Ballmer said that “Linux is a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches,” during a commercial spot masquerading as a media interview with the Chicago Sun-Times Friday.”

– Thomas C. Greene, The Register, June 2, 2001

Will new leadership usher in new attitudes? Even if it was a long time ago, being referred to as cancer is harsh. Nadella’s full leadership abilities are yet an unknown, at least at the very top corporate level.

Between Ballmer and Natella, it’s hard for me to imagine two people that are more different. Ballmer commands by force of will. Satya Nadella appears pensive and thoughtful…even humble in his approach to leadership. Where Ballmer is the eternal brash salesman, Natella is a ninja engineer technologist. He knows the correct order of the ones and zeros. He is as comfortable being elbows deep with servers and the enterprise as he is on a Sunday outing.

But regardless of leadership style, Microsoft as a public traded entity has named Linux and free open source software as a direct threat to their bottom line. Will a change in leadership lessen that perception? I don’t think so. Remember, in public traded enterprises, it’s increasing shareholder value over customers.

From the Form 10-K filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2010:

“Client faces strong competition from well-established companies with differing approaches to the PC market. Competing commercial software products, including variants of Unix, are supplied by competitors such as Apple, Canonical, and Red Hat. Apple takes an integrated approach to the PC experience and has made inroads in share, particularly in the U.S. and in the consumer segment. The Linux operating system, which is also derived from Unix and is available without payment under a General Public License, has gained some acceptance, especially in emerging markets, as competitive pressures lead OEMs to reduce costs and new, lower-price PC form-factors gain adoption. Partners such as Hewlett-Packard and Intel have been actively working with alternative Linux-based operating systems.”

I think the best that we can expect is an uneasy peace.

Some of you have talked to me and think that Satya Nadella will be the peacemaker. He will be the one who finally shows the world how open source and proprietary software can work together, that sharing some of Microsoft’s code base is just a matter of time. I’m not so sure. Microsoft is still beholden to their shareholders and Linux bears some nasty scars from deep wounds. I’m not sure that some of the FOSS powers-that-be will want to work with Microsoft.

But remember, I’m the guy who said Google was a flash in the pan and that they could be safely ignored. “They will be worth about as much as yesterday’s newspaper,” I said. My correct prediction-to-fact ratio isn’t exactly stellar.

So what do you see?

Does this open up communication possibilities between the two opposed camps? I’m guessing someone way smarter than me will tell us.

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Ken Starks writes and publishes The Blog of Helios, a finalist in our Best FOSS or Linux Blog competition. In addition, he's the person behind the Reglue project that refurbishes older computers and gives them to disadvantaged school kids in the Austin, Texas area.

2 comments to Satya Nadella, Who’s Next at Microsoft

  • Eddie G.

    Amazed that no one has spoken on this as yet. but I think that the way things “were”? is about to change drastically. I think Mr. Nadella has to figure out a way to shake Mr. gates from off his back, and then he should take charge and point MS in a new direction. Will this new path include / involve FOSS? None can say, it would depend on a lot of different factors, from the open source OS they wish to collaborate with to the willingness of the masses to accespt such a union. But I’m thinking a lot of people won’t trust the “Empire” enough to warrant anything useful, but then again…what do I know? LOL!

  • […] was all over the Web and quoting Microsoft staff (posing as ‘journalists’), Ken Starks falls into the trap. He says: “Some of you have talked to me and think that Satya Nadella will be the peacemaker. […]