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

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Pimping products

One of the clearest signs that Nadella gets it? Releasing Office on iPad before there's a finger-friendly version for Windows. Yes, Office for iPad was developed under Ballmer -- but Ballmer didn't have the cojones (or perhaps the opportunity) to get it out before it turned stale. Thirty-five million downloads can't all be wrong.

Now we even have Skype and OneNote on Amazon.com's hardware. And just this past Friday, Microsoft revealed that the new version of mobile Internet Explorer would render websites in the same way iOS Safari and Firefox do, because the iOS approach is how users expect the Web to work. Talk about seeing the world as it is, as a collection of vendor platforms.

Platform agnosticism, the antithesis of "Windows first," is Microsoft's best bet in an era where the term "Windows" has turned into a marketing liability, if not an epithet.

Platform support grade: A.

In spite of the bean counters' rigged reports, the Surface tablet is a disaster. Much of the problem can be attributed to Ballmer's watch, but the recent reports of Surface Pro 3 glitches have Nadella written in the margin. At least Nadella didn't release a Windows RT-only version of the Surface Mini.

The Surface Pro 3 is getting good reviews, and it may have a future, but it's far from the success story Microsoft needs to build a hardware division.

Enterprise device grade: C–.

And Xbox? Puh-lease. Drop Kinect, lower the price by a hundred bucks (both actions taken on Nadella's watch), crow about how your sales have doubled in one month -- then discover that Sony's PS4 still outsold the Xbox.

Consumer device grade: D.

Azure, Office 365, Dynamics CRM, SQL Server, and Hyper-V, by contrast, are firing on all cylinders. Rumors of Windows 365 and a massive investment in cloud development environments all show that Nadella knows where his future bread is buttered. And the environment is feeding on itself: Office 365 drives Azure Active Directory, Enterprise Mobility, Azure Intelligence Service, with much more in the pipeline. Well planned and executed -- Nadella's been running this show for a long time.

Cloud services grade: A+ (even if AWS is still the 800-pound gorilla in the market).

Nadella couches Microsoft's foray into future markets by blurring the line between fun and work:

Productive people and organizations are the primary drivers of individual fulfillment and economic growth, and we need to do everything to make the experiences and platforms that enable this ubiquitous. We will think of every user as a potential 'dual user' -- people who will use technology for their work or school and also deeply use it in their personal digital life. ... Microsoft will push into all corners of the globe to empower every individual as a dual user.

Although some people buy into the "dual user" marketing direction, I've seen a whole lot of evidence that consumers want simpler solutions that don't get bogged down in corporate baggage. The first time your Windows wristwatch blue-screens, you can tell me different.

Consumer market vision grade: D.

Then there's Windows. Salvation may be at hand, but Windows is dying, and Microsoft hammered eight nails into the coffin. Nadella gave the go-ahead to put all of the Windows effort into one team (an unconscionable lapse of the Ballmer/Sinofsky era), but now we're looking at a forthcoming version of Windows that's supposed to run on everything, everywhere. Of course that won't happen except in marketing drivel -- Microsoft, after all, can call anything "Windows" -- but there's been precious little insight or direction coming from Redmond about where it's headed with Windows, the most ubiquitous Microsoft product.

Windows transparency grade: F.

The financials

Microsoft's stock, which was doing well after Ballmer announced his impending departure a little over a year ago, has been positively golden. Microsoft's shares closed just under $37 on Feb. 4, 2014, and their value lately hovers around $44, for an increase of about 20 percent over six months.

Company value grade: A.

Nadella only had a small impact as CEO on Microsoft's financial results for the fiscal year ending June 30, but those results speak for themselves: $87 billion in revenue, $28 billion in operating income, commercial cloud revenue (including Azure and Office 365) at a $4.4 billion annual rate, $86 billion in cash -- all records. Nadella's impact as CEO will show up in the numbers next year, but his old job had a big effect on the numbers that were recently released.

Company financials grade: A.

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