Satya Nadella at six months: Grading Microsoft's new CEO

The future emerging for Microsoft under Nadella is a mixed bag of hope and turmoil

Satya Nadella took over as Microsoft's CEO six months ago, on Feb. 4, 2014. While that six months seemed to have gone a lot quicker than the gestation period prior to Nadella's coronation, it's plenty long enough for us to get a bead on the kind of supremacy it will be in Redmond.

When Nadella took over, Microsoft was mired in the aftermath of a lengthy and ultimately unpopular reign by longtime CEO -- and Microsoft's largest shareholder -- Steve Ballmer. Given the constraint of that checkered past, some might argue that Nadella hasn't had enough time to make his imprint on every aspect of Microsoft. Yet there have been many changes already under Nadella's watch, and patterns are certainly emerging as to the kind of company Microsoft will be in the years ahead.

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Here's my take on what Nadella has and hasn't done in the past six months, looking at the company from the perspective of a longtime Microsoft customer.

Ghost of empires past

When Nadella assumed the reins, Ballmer had steered Microsoft 16 months into what could be called a "devices and services" quagmire. The strategy saw Microsoft selling services aplenty at the end of Ballmer's tenure, but the "devices" half wasn't living up to the mark, comprising a money-losing game console and a line of tablets with slap-on keyboards that sparked big write-offs with pathetically few sales. Although Microsoft had announced Nokia's acquisition at that point, Nokia hadn't yet been absorbed into the Redmond borg.

Six months later, Xbox sales still fall short of Sony's PS4, Surface sales have barely broken the surface, Windows Phone remains an also-also-also-ran, and 12,500 Nokia employees have or will soon have their pink slips. So much for devices.

Microsoft ain't no Apple, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

For his part, Nadella has engaged in an elephantine pirouette, paying lip service to the "devices" contingent, while clearly betting the company long-term on the cloud. The one true constant between the regimes may be the desire to milk the old cash cows Windows and Office for as long as they can be flogged.

The vision thing

Some argue that Nadella's "mobile-first, cloud-first" mantra is no different than Ballmer's "devices and services" strategy. Not even close -- Nadella clearly sees the writing on the wall. Hell, as head cheerleader of Microsoft's cloud efforts for many years, he wrote some of the writing on the wall. Nadella's vision for Microsoft's future undeniably shows congruence with the way the winds are blowing.

I give his strategic vision thus far an A.

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