The case against Nadella as Microsoft's next CEO

With everybody announcing definitively that Satya Nadella will be the next Microsoft CEO, it's time for a little devil's advocacy

Although Satya Nadella would make an excellent CEO, there are serious concerns about his ability to take Microsoft to the next level -- and more than a few fear that his promotion will leave a technical vacuum that'll be very hard to fill. We have a precedent: Bing.

Very early yesterday morning, Kara Swisher of Re/code wrote that the Microsoft CEO announcement could happen next week: "At this moment, those who have watched the process think that insider Satya Nadella, who is currently leading its enterprise effort, is the likeliest internal candidate to prevail."

Early this morning, Dina Bass at Bloomberg took it a step further. "Microsoft's board is preparing to make Satya Nadella, the company's enterprise and cloud chief, chief executive officer and is discussing replacing Bill Gates as chairman, according to people with knowledge of the process."

A blogging deluge followed, with more than 300 news outlets trying to rewrite those two reports. You'd be forgiven if you woke up this morning and figured that Microsoft had already made the announcement that Nadella was in and Gates out. Not so -- at least as of this writing, very early Friday morning, the Redmond fat lady hasn't sung.

There's no question Nadella's qualified for the job. He has the technical chops, developer support, and bearing necessary to take over the behemoth (a job I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy, by the way). But his rise within the ranks has been meteoric, and the vacuum he'll necessarily leave behind could clobber Microsoft's most promising division.

Industry observers seem to forget that just three years ago Nadella was in charge of Bing. When Nadella left Bing, the leadership vacuum hit hard. Bing has never been the same. Although he's spent 20 years working for Microsoft -- many of those working for Qi Lu, who presumably will stay on as executive vice president -- Nadella's gone from the helm of resource-sucking Bing to CEO favorite in an astonishing time.

Perhaps uniquely among Microsoft brass, Nadella knows cloud, inside and out. What isn't clear is if he can use his cloud mindset to work wonders in areas where Microsoft's failing miserably -- home-brewed devices (hello, Surface), mobile, advertising, even Windows -- and where the future seems murky at best: Office, Skype, and Xbox. Nadella understands the hooks, but does he know the markets? Does he have the (forgive my use of the term) "vision" necessary to get revolutionary consumer products out the door or the courage to cut them loose completely?

Is Microsoft going to give up on consumer products altogether -- over the long term, of course -- and focus on milking the cloud cash cow? If so, Nadella's clearly the right choice. I can't think of anyone better qualified. And neither could Microsoft's board, I bet.

Which brings me to the point that still sticks in my craw: Why on earth did it take Microsoft's board of directors 160 days (and counting) to come up with an internal candidate -- a guy who's been sitting in plain sight on the warmup bench for years? Sure, they wanted to kick the tires at Ford and call up Ericsson. Fair enough. But six months to pick an internal candidate? Bah.

If Nadella's the anointed one, you have to wonder about Microsoft's board. Its indecision speaks volumes.

This story, "The case against Nadella as Microsoft's next CEO," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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