Nadella: 'Windows is the most open platform there is'

As the headliner for Gartner Symposium 2016, the Microsoft CEO talked about the future of AI, the cloud, Windows, and what he plans to do with Linkedin.
Written by Jason Hiner, Editor in Chief

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella was a keynote speaker at Gartner Symposium ITxpo 2016.

Image: Jason Hiner/TechRepublic

When Satya Nadella became CEO of Microsoft in 2014, he asked what the company's place in the world is, and how it could make the biggest contribution.

What he kept coming back to was that the company builds things that empower people to build their own things. When he looked at Microsoft, he saw software that could be a force to "democratize and empower people."

Nadella articulated what that vision means for the future of Azure, Windows, Office, Cortana, Linkedin, and more during his keynote address--on a telepresence link--at Gartner Symposium ITxpo 2016 in Orlando on Tuesday.

In conversation with Gartner analysts that featured lots of Nadella's usual well-crafted, nuanced statements, he also boldly declared:

"Windows is the most open platform there is."

It came in the context of Nadella talking about Microsoft's mission to unite the three big constituencies in the technology world.

"That's the approach we've always taken," said Nadella, "bringing users, IT, and developers together... When you bring them together, that's where the magic happens."

SEE: Photos: A look inside Google's, Microsoft's and Facebook's datacenters (TechRepublic)

He reminded the audience of several thousand technology leaders that Microsoft began by making tools, then it made apps, and now it makes platforms.

Or, it buys them.

In June, Nadella and company bought Linkedin for $26 billion, and ever since the technology world has wondered what it plans to do with the service that owns the social graph of the working world.

"I love Linkedin for Linkedin," said Nadella. "We are just custodians of that data, and we need to add value to that data."

He said that the world needs a vibrant professional network where people can realize the value of their skills and find the opportunities to maximize them. But Nadella got most excited when he explained that Linkedin also has valuable solutions for businesses--hiring, marketing, training, and selling -- "and there lies natural opportunities for integration."

He specifically pointed to Dynamics and Office 365.

The other topic where Microsoft's approach to data privacy came up was Cortana, the company's AI-powered virtual assistant that is competing in an increasingly crowded field that includes players such as Apple's Siri, Amazon's Alexa, Google Assistant, and IBM Watson.

Nadella highlighted several key principles in Microsoft's approach to privacy on Cortana:

  • Whatever data we have, we have to keep it secure
  • Provide transparency (users know what Cortana knows about them and can control it)
  • Be compliant with regulations

In comparison to other AI assistants, Nadella said to look for Microsoft to focus Cortana on the things that Microsoft cares about the most--worker productivity and business processes.

Of course, Nadella's baby is Azure. It's the thing he usually talks about the most and the area where Microsoft has the most momentum. On Tuesday, Azure was a bit of a footnote--even though it increasingly powers a lot of the other products and platforms Nadella mentioned. Still, Nadella did take a moment to mention that Azure has now passed certification for government use.

"It's exciting to see the public sector being able to tap into the cloud," he said.

SEE: Gartner's 10 big trends that will change how IT operates (TechRepublic)

Nadella is bound to take some heat for his statement about the openness of Windows, especially from open source advocates who would argue that Linux, OpenBSD, and other open source platforms have claimed that crown for decades. Nadella's argument in this case is about the number of products built on top of Windows--creating billions of dollars worth of value that "dwarfs other platforms."

That's unlikely to convince many open source gurus--many of whom are comfortably building solutions using Linux on Azure. But, it's not really Nadella's style to start of war of words over software's moral high ground, and I don't think that was his intention in the keynote. Instead, it was all part of his renewed appeal to attract makers, builders, and coders into the Microsoft fold.

He said, "We want to be that platform that enables every developer."

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