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Microsoft's Nadella: Productivity Is Our Soul

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella promises Worldwide Partner Conference audience that productivity tools will top the company's priorities in the age of mobile and cloud.

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When setting priorities, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says there is no breaking the tie between mobile-first and cloud-first as strategies for the next generation of computing. But beyond that, the company needs to make choices.

"The real question that needs to be asked -- as well as answered -- is what [can we] do as an ecosystem that's unique, that's impactful," Nadella told the crowd at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference in Washington, D.C. "To me, the answer is clear." Creating productivity tools is the thing Microsoft is best known for, he said, and the thing that stretches beyond the Windows PC.

"That's our singular mission, that's what's unique to us, that's what in our core and in our soul -- and that's what we're going to do." As computing power keeps growing, he added, what's scarce is human attention and time.

[For more on Microsoft's cloud focus, see Microsoft Pushes Partners To Cloud.]

Cloud and mobile demand equal attention because mobile productivity depends so much on cloud services and contextual data, Nadella said. This is a source of frustration to computer engineers who don't like having two things ranked #1, he noted, but the sorting algorithm doesn't work. What's more important, he continued, is paying attention to the demands from users about data and privacy and being in control of how cloud and mobile tools behave. "We want Windows to stand for that user-controlled privacy."

To maintain its reputation for productivity, Microsoft will focus on innovating around new modes of input and output that work on phones as well as PCs and are generally more flexible. Nadella said he already finds himself talking to his Windows PC phone "more than I have ever talked to Windows." One onstage demo showcased the latest generation of Microsoft's Cortana voice-powered digital assistant, which is capable of translating a phrase like "add an appointment for Thursday at 8 pm and call it dinner with my wife" into an appointment -- and warning about another event scheduled at the same time.

The biggest crowd-pleaser of the event was a voice translation demonstration of a Skype session between an English speaker, Microsoft's Steve Clayton, and a German woman -- who was naturally gloating over Germany's World Cup win. As each spoke in their own language, translations appeared a moment later, as on-screen subtitles accompanied by a synthesized voice in the other language. Aside from a minor grammatical glitch ("Well how is it me friends"), the German speaker was able to express herself quite clearly ("I could not be happier I celebrated the whole night") and even tease Clayton, who is British ("In a single game, Germany has scored more goals than England in the last two events together."). Microsoft is targeting beta release for the feature later this year.

Nadella also showed off a preview of Delve, a recently announced "Office graph" feature that provides a Facebook-like feed of all the activity from across all the productivity applications in a workplace -- for example, allowing you to see that a file has been shared without searching for it in a shared drive or cloud repository. Unlike social sharing in Yammer,

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David F. Carr oversees InformationWeek's coverage of government and healthcare IT. He previously led coverage of social business and education technologies and continues to contribute in those areas. He is the editor of Social Collaboration for Dummies (Wiley, Oct. 2013) and ... View Full Bio

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User Rank: Ninja
7/17/2014 | 1:45:29 PM
Wrong slogan
The right one would be "the customer comes first".

David F. Carr
David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
7/16/2014 | 8:58:58 PM
Re: Windows Phone still a bust
OpenOffice and Google Docs can be hard to love when the people you're collaborating with are on MS Office, and the file conversion feature doesn't quite cut it.
Shane M. O'Neill
Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
7/16/2014 | 4:58:20 PM
Re: Windows Phone still a bust
True, Office's iron grip on the computing world is a bit baffling. It's not that good. I think Microsoft does have have some great productivity tools in place like Lync, Skype, Yammer, and Sharepoint, if Sharepoint is managed well. The problem has been packaging all these tools in a clear narrative. Ballmer could never do it well, but it seems to be Nadella's mission.
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
7/16/2014 | 4:45:37 PM
Re: Windows Phone still a bust
>Microsoft has great productivity software

Widely used, yes. But great, I'm not so sure. Office is okay. But there's something wrong with the fact that I've paid for more or less the same word processing program every two or three years since 1989. Frankly, it's baffling that Office is so entrenched and that efforts to challenge it haven't really succeeded. I suppose it's my fault for not loving Linux and OpenOffice more.
Shane M. O'Neill
Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
7/16/2014 | 3:32:06 PM
Windows Phone still a bust
Microsoft has great productivity software and cloud platform in Azure. And it appears it'll keep pushing aggressively in that direction to its "soul." But I don't know how Microsoft makes headway in mobile when their mobile OS remains an also-ran. Windows Phone has been around in its rebooted form for almost four years now, and market share is still, what, 5% at best. Are WIndows Phones in some sort of long game that I don't understand? Where's the growth?
User Rank: Author
7/16/2014 | 2:34:15 PM
Low risk
Nothing risky here from Nadella. I wonder if partners were looking for something bolder given today's Apple-IBM news.
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