Microsoft CEO signals course shift

IPAD APP UNVEILED::Satya Nadella barely mentioned Windows during a news conference, while the Surface tablet was conspicuous by its absence from a floor show


Sat, Mar 29, 2014 - Page 15

Microsoft Corp’s new chief executive officer, Satya Nadella, finally unveiled Office for Apple Inc’s iPad in a polished debut that set him apart from his energetic predecessor while signaling his plans to make mobile apps the top priority at the world’s largest software company.

At a news conference on Thursday, executives demonstrated a new “touch-first” version of Office crafted for the iPad, available for download as a free app, though a subscription is needed to let users create or edit documents rather than just read them.

Significantly, they did not demonstrate any software on Windows machines, telegraphing a departure from former chief executive Steve Ballmer’s focus on the personal computer operating software and its own devices.

“Their absence speaks volumes,” said Daniel Ives, an analyst at FBR Capital Markets. “Nadella’s a cloud-centric guy; he’s going to focus on what’s been successful, and where the future’s going. Windows 8 thus far has been extremely underwhelming.”

Nadella kicked off the presentation with a fluid, low-key introduction to Microsoft’s approach to the new mobile, cloud-centric world of computing, in his first public appearance since taking the helm 52 days ago.

Dressed in a black polo shirt and dark jeans, the 46-year-old computer scientist threw in some geek humor and lines of poetry from T.S. Eliot, marking a change in style from the energetic Ballmer. His lack of references to Windows indicated a deeper strategic shift.

Nadella gave no indication of when Microsoft would release “touch-first” versions of Office apps for Windows 8, the latest version of the operating software, which he acknowledged had fallen behind in the mobile era.

“The Windows strategy, there’s no change, except we want to be known as the innovative company that’s coming from behind in some categories,” Nadella told reporters in an ad hoc question and answer session after the presentation, another sign of new openness at the company.

“If you look at the story of Windows, we lead in some, we have fallen behind in some. We’re grounded in that reality,” he said. “What we need to be is a challenger there and be able to show what we’re capable of doing in these new form factors.”

Apart from the absence of any Windows devices, the Surface, one of Ballmer’s prized concepts, was conspicuously missing from a show floor at the event that included Google Inc Android tablets from Samsung Electronics Co and Acer Inc (宏碁) as well as the iPad.

Nadella did not mention the poor-selling tablet at all in conversations with reporters.

Sources have said an iPad-friendly version of Office — which encompasses such popular applications as Word, Excel and PowerPoint — had been ready for years, but the company had been reluctant to compromise its signature PC operating system. At the time, the sources could not speak because they were not authorized to talk to the press.

However, Microsoft’s own efforts to produce a touch-friendly operating system capable of challenging the iPad have floundered, with poor sales of its Surface tablet, and a general lack of interest from third party hardware makers in making tablets running Windows 8.