How Microsoft got its groove back

After many years during which it missed out on successive revolutions such as open source, search engines, mobility, social networks and the cloud, during which it pathetically criticized competitors that were doing better, made a fool of itself by coming up with some of the worst products in the history of technology, and also disappeared from the covers of the main magazines interested in the future, everything seems to indicate that Microsoft, a year or so after Satya Nadella took over as CEO, is back, and once again an interesting company.

All that was required was to get that embarrassing clown out of the way, leverage its plentiful talent base, get rid of cultural barriers to innovation, and then carry out a few strategic alliances and acquisitions. As recently as last summer there were still doubts. But today, one year on from his ambitious and forward-looking development plan, Microsoft is a completely different company from when Nadella took over in February 2014, and is much more focused on the future, and with a better image as a result of pursuing more interesting projects.

The company has abandoned the policy of stuffing products in shrink-wrapped cardboard boxes, and is now developing a strategy to become a major supplier of cloud-based services (it is currently the second-largest provider at the moment, with a 10 percent market share), as well as having completely overhauled its unpleasant perception, opting for one that is much more in line with the real world. Microsoft no longer hates Linux, and has even reached the point where one of its most reputable engineers has said that an open-source Windows is “definitely possible”, a headline that would have been totally unthinkable under Ballmer, a man who understood technology in the same way he does supporting a sports team (he’s in his element managing the Clippers).

Microsoft’s new openness has led it to take initiatives like buying Mojang, the creators of Minecraft: ostensibly because “it’s the game parents want to see their kids playing”, but in practice so that it can use the technology in projects such as HoloLens. Sure, we’ve seen lots of visionary videos from Microsoft over the years, but under Ballmer, there was never any sense they were rooted in reality, or that they were ever going to materialize. Now we’re talking about something very different:

This is a change in direction that has allowed the company to approach organizations as committed to open source as Arduino and to bring Windows 10 to it through open source libraries, or to the Raspberry Pi Foundation through a Windows 10 version for the Internet of Things (IoT). These are projects that will obviously have little impact on Microsoft’s bottom line, but will play a key role in how the industry sees the company, possibly making it an ally, a player to be counted on, into an integral part of the ecosystem.

After having been, in 1991, one of the participants in the team that brought Bill Gates to Spain to award him the MBA Honoris Causa from IE Business School, I have spent more than a decade criticizing harshly the strategy of the company under the management of whom I consider the worst manager in the world. Now, fourteen months after Satya Nadella took over as CEO, Microsoft is once again an interesting company, and I’m not the only one who thinks so. Equally importantly, Microsoft’s return isn’t just good news for Microsoft: more choices and greater diversity in the ecosystem is good for everybody.

Microsoft, great to have you back!

(En español, aquí)