Microsoft gets smart to the 'dual user' -- and to reality

CEO Satya Nadella gets how the world has changed and how Microsoft needs to fit in the new tech landscape

In the six months since Satya Nadella has taken the reins from previous CEO Steve Ballmer, we have seen Microsoft state its vision: mobile-first, cloud-first. This vision is an adjustment from the earlier, Ballmer-driven concept of Microsoft focusing on "devices and services." In a recent email to all at Microsoft, Nadella wrote, "While the devices and services description was helpful in starting our transformation, we now need to hone in on our unique strategy." That strategy revolves around the dual user.

Most of us -- from office workers to students -- lead two computing lives. One speaks to the needs of our job, and one resonates with our personal life. At work, we likely use Windows and Office and perhaps server-based services like Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync. At home, we might use the same Microsoft tools (perhaps different versions of them), or we might use a Mac, iPad, Android tablet or PC, and/or Chrome OS computer and cloud services like our ISP's email service, Dropbox, Google Hangouts, and iCloud. It's this duality that Nadella is eyeing as Microsoft's focus.

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With Nadella using phrases like "harmonize the world's devices," I get the sense that Microsoft is not giving up on its long-term concept of one OS to rule them all, championed by co-founder Bill Gates, even if Microsoft is relaxing how that OS appears to people working on different devices.

By viewing every user as a potential dual user, Nadella is pushing Microsoft's teams to work together to provide for both sides of a person's life. OneDrive and OneDrive for Business, Skype and Lync, Office for Windows, Mac, and iPad -- tools that people use at work can also be used at home, or at least work with and like the tools they use at home.

Not surprisingly, this focus is also leading to an opportunity to run leaner as a company, eliminating overlapping roles and personnel, leading to a cut of 18,000 jobs in the next year, the largest round of layoffs in Microsoft's history. Yes, two-thirds of those are Nokia employees, which Ballmer acquired last year for its mobile hardware business and Nadella is now shrinking. But a third are "traditional" Microsoft employees, people working on the products and services we thnk of as Microsoft. That's part of Nadella's desire for Microsoft to be more focused and leaner.

I have to say that all this change has me pretty excited. Microsoft is starting to grasp the mistakes of Windows 8, and it appears ready to make Windows 9 an apology to all. Perhaps the company will rename it Mea Culpa 9.

At the same time, Microsoft is growing its Azure and Office 365 cloud services with constant, aggressive development work happening on both fronts. The acqusition of and fat reduction at Nokia, coupled with tighter integration with Microsoft's technology and product teams, will most certainly lead to better mobile devices.

Nadella's focus on the dual user is key to making these pieces deliver a strong Microsoft. But that strategy also reveals that Microsoft's can't necessarily control its success: People have become entrenched with their personal device choices. We've seen in the past five years as the BYOD phenomenon where users brought "non-enterprise" devices like the iPhone and iPad into work, even Macs in some cases. That's a big change from the way things worked even a decade ago: You got a company device, and that was that.

With BYOD allowing for iPads, iPhones, Macs, and Android devices, we've seen a blurring of the personal/corporate lines. Not only that, it's become somewhat of a religious war for those who have been able to use their personal devices for work: They're not going back to the old orthodoxy. These battle lines may be permanently drawn.

Nevertheless, Nadella seems eager to reboot the company, saying "nothing is off the table" and "tired traditions will be questioned," and promising that Microsoft will "obsess over our customers." Only time will tell if Microsoft's actions will back up Nadella's words. But I am excited to see what Microsoft will look like one year from today.

This story, "Microsoft gets smart to the 'dual user' -- and to reality," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of J. Peter Bruzzese's Enterprise Windows blog and follow the latest developments in Windows at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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