Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has a long to-do-list that encompasses long-term plans that will take months and years to pan out, but there are some things he can jump on right away that will have a positive impact on the company and establish himself as a leader. Here are six.
Launch Office for iPad
Microsoft Office is one of the most popular application suites ever and there's an enormous potential market for it among iPad users.Yes, iPad users can get office via Office 365, but the last thing many iPad users want is paying an annual fee to Microsoft. They just want to buy the software, install it and use it.
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There's an opportunity there for Microsoft to keep this popular suite popular among a group of people prone to walking away from Microsoft products. It's not like they don't have alternatives in Google Apps and Apple's own Pages, Numbers and Keynote apps. And it's not like Microsoft's iPad competitor, Surface 2, is stripping away iPad customers, even though it comes standard with a version of Office.
It's hard to know why Microsoft hasn't done this already. Some rumors have Microsoft sitting on a completed iPad version of Office. It's time to release it.
Answer the question: "Why should I buy a Windows Phone?"
So far nobody has been able to do that convincingly. Last quarter, Windows Phone pulled down just 4% of sales, behind Android at 77% and iOS at 18%, according to ABI research. While that's a 104% growth over the year before, it's growth on a very small percentage.
Since mobility first/cloud first is Nadella's mantra, it's essential that customers buy these phones so they can tap into Microsoft cloud services.
With Nokia being the main purveyor of Windows Phones and Microsoft about to purchase Nokia, it's important to get the word out that these are good hardware devices with a friendly interface. The issue is selling customers on what they can do with them, which is quite a bit if they tap into the cloud services.
This includes accessing documents, mail servers and applications in the cloud, all of which could be attractive to businesses.
The downside is that developers haven't flocked to the platform as they have to Android and iOS. It's a chicken and egg problem: People will buy the phones if there are apps and developers will develop the apps when there are more customers to write for. Somehow he has to break this cycle. Which brings up the next action item.
Reach out to developers
Nadella is in good shape to do this, given that he has run development teams at Microsoft for years. What he can say to them will come from technical knowledge, and be more effective, say, than Ballmer's famous "Developers, developers, developers" rant in front of a developers' conference. Microsoft has been wooing developers to write apps for Windows 8 since before Windows 8 became publicly available, but the effort hasn't connected with developers in a big enough way.
Nadella will have the chance to do this in April when the company holds its Build Developer Conference in San Francisco. He needs to make it clear that it's worthwhile to invest the time.
This is one big advantage he has over Ballmer; Nadella can speak the developers' language, recognize their challenges and conjure up the right motivations.
Better articulate the benefits of Windows 8
Judging from the slow uptake of Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 operating systems, it seems customers don't get it and don't buy it all that much despite the pending end-of-life for Windows XP. And as XP use is going down, Windows 8/8.1 use is on the rise, but many of the former XP users are adopting Windows 7 instead.
The learning curve for Windows 8 is just too much for many customers, especially those coming from a mouse-and-keyboard environment. It wouldn't hurt to have an easily flipped switch between the Windows 8 touch environment and the Windows 8 desktop environment so those reluctant to accept change can avoid it and remain productive. The simple truth is that for many tasks touch a strength of Windows 8 isn't necessary. And since Windows 8 is meant to embrace both touch and keyboard-and-mouse, both should be readily accessible.
Microsoft has made strides toward this in moving from Windows 8 to Windows 8.1, but there needs to be a sharper divide.
Meet with Nokia's Stephen Elop
Nadella won the CEO job at Microsoft and Stephen Elop didn't. Since Elop is the top Nokia executive coming on board with the acquisition, Nadella needs to sit down with him and determine whether there is a hatchet to bury and then bury it.
Nokia and its phones and phablets are an essential part of Microsoft and it's important for Nadella and Elop to work together. They've got to come up with mobile hardware that meets customer needs as they move away from PCs and toward tablets, and instill them with features that show off the unique aspects of Microsoft's mobile-first/cloud-first strategy.
Elop's team is facing challenges as it comes onboard; its chief designer chose to leave the company to pursue entrepreneurial goals rather than be part of the Microsoft acquisition. Elop doesn't need more pressure from an awkward relationship from Microsoft's CEO.
Tap the Microsoft skunkworks
Microsoft has R&D in lots of areas that aren't locked to a product with a business plan. Nadella should explore what's there, select some exciting possibilities and turn loose some creative juices backed by an endorsement from the top.
Bill Gates has been tapped to spend time with product teams to mine for gems, and he's a great asset, but Nadella himself should find some time to spend on this task to demonstrate its importance.
The company is often knocked for becoming stodgy, slow to move and behind the innovation curve. This could be a way to shake some of that stigma and perhaps even come up with the next big thing.
Tim Greene covers Microsoft and unified communications for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter@Tim_Greene.
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