Satya Nadella’s came close to calling for a return to Microsoft's founding principals during his keynote speech at the the company's Build 2014 conference in San Francisco yesterday. The speech by the newly appointed Microsoft CEO contained a lot for Windows lovers and mobile phone fans. But it also contained repeated pleas for developers to keep the faith — faith in Windows specifically and Microsoft generally.
Nadella arrived at the conference facing a number of problems that have arisen from Microsoft’s previous lethargy in meeting new challenges, particularly the rise of mobile.
A More Restrained Microsoft
This is particularly true for Windows 8 and the lackluster response to it by customers, as well as the fact that Windows phones have had little impact on the mobile landscape.
Nadella is not former CEO Steve Ballmer in either approach or mindset. In contrast to Ballmer’s gregarious and often overstated challenges to Microsoft employees and the wider tech industry, Nadella is restrained and measured in his delivery.
Rather than reiterate Ballmer's insistence to hold onto the PC. Nadella said Microsoft needs to adopt a ‘challenger’ approach. “You should build for Windows because we're coming at this with a challenger mindset,” Nadella said.
“Microsoft was a tools company before it was an Office company, before it was a Windows company,” a clear reference to the fact that it was a software company serving the wider technology community rather than just a company that "does Windows" or "does Office."
It is pertinent to note here that only this week, Gartner’s figures for software sales over 2013 show Microsoft has retained its position as the top software maker by a very, very large margin.
For those looking for Windows innovation, there was a lot to digest. Nadella urged developers to work with Windows because … well that really was the billion dollar question developers were waiting to have answered.
Why build for Windows? That's the question of the conference and the question this morning. You want to build for Windows because we're going to innovate…We are going to come at this by innovating in every dimension."
He told developers that they were special, that Microsoft wanted them and more importantly, pointed out that Microsoft has more “input devices” than any other company in the business.
In practical terms, Microsoft is facing a number of challenges. Consumers that are slowly recovering from five years of recession appear to be dumping the PC in favor of tables and smartphones.
In the mobile world, Microsoft has been very slow off the blocks and is now completely overshadowed by both Apple and Google’s Android. That said, Microsoft at Build has shown it is fighting back — and eager to push Windows onto a lot more devices.
To achieve this, Microsoft announced that it will be offering the Windows operating system to smartphone and small tablet makers who are producing devices with screens of 9-inches or less, as well as for devices that carry machine-to-machine communication — a nod to companies that are currently developing devices for the Internet of Things.
Until now, Microsoft has charged table makers between $5 and $15 per device to use its Windows system, something it has done since the beginning with PCs.
While Microsoft is clearly targeting the mobile market, it also appears to be counting on more Windows phone users buying other mobile Microsoft products like Office, which is now on the Pad, or even Skype.
Microsoft also introduced Cortana for Windows Phone, a voice-powered personal digital assistant powered by Bing, which is still in beta and launching only in the US United States.
Cortana is part of the new Windows Phone 8.1 and, according to Microsoft, will fully replace the search function on Windows Phone. It is named after the artificial-intelligence character in Microsoft's best-selling "Halo" Xbox video game series.
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