Reading between the software lines of Nadella's first CEO speech

Microsoft's newly minted CEO Satya Nadella talked up Microsoft's role as a software maker, as much as a devices and services one, in his first public speech.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

As someone who has sat through more than a few presentations by Microsoft's newly-minted CEO Satya Nadella (before he was CEO), I know a couple of things about his talks.


I've heard Nadella talk about everything from Bing and big data, to the CloudOS. Nadella's remarks are typically high-level and usually include lots of the latest tech-industry buzzwords. But he also usually has a very specific message in mind when he comments.

Nadella made his first "public" speech as CEO on February 4, his first day on the job. He spoke to a select audience of partners and customers on the Microsoft campus and his remarks were webcast.

There were no blockbuster revelations from Nadella, nor did I expect there'd be. But what stood out to me was Nadella's insistence on reminding Microsoft's constituencies that Microsoft may be repositioning itself as a devices and services company, but it's still -- first and foremost -- a software company.

"Software will define devices," Nadella told the studio audience and those of us watching at home. Later, he noted "software empowers everyone." And he mentioned the "software embodied in our devices and services," when talking about the evolving ecosystem in which Microsoft is playing these days.

I don't think any of these mentions were accidental. I think they are part of Microsoft's campaign to focus on what it brings to the tech party that other players don't. Yes, there are other device makers out there. And yes there are other services companies out there. But many of those in either category are vendors that do little unique software development themselves.

Microsoft needs to highlight the assets that it has that are "not replicable by others," Nadella noted. I'd think that means, for one, Office, which Microsoft is in the midst of making over to work better on touch devices (its own and others).

I wouldn't go so far as to say Microsoft is doing a 180 and attempting to go back to identifying itself as a software maker. But I think it's a good sign the new CEO isn't afraid to acknowledge publicly what Microsoft's last quarter numbers made plain: Microsoft is a software vendor, and an enterprise software powerhouse, in particular.

As a related aside, for those wondering, Microsoft is not making public today the name of the individual who is going to take Nadella's place as the new Executive Vice President in charge of Cloud & Enterprise. There's no word on when Microsoft will share the name of that person.

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