Big changes at Microsoft, and they didn’t come too soon. I am encouraged by the executive shuffle.

Bill Gates, now an elder statesman in the tech industry, is also a global player whose return as an advisor will inspire employees, customers and investors.

Steve Ballmer, a loud and vocal salesman, was not the visionary the company needed to thrive in the rapidly changing landscape. Frankly, I’m glad he’s gone.

Satya Nadella
is a successful Microsoft insider who gets that the future of Microsoft is bigger than operating systems and boxed bits on shiny discs. Nadella must rapidly unveil his own vision and not try to be BillG 2.0.

There are big questions for Nadella as he assumes the command of a tech titan that has lost its way:

• What’s going to happen with the consumer versions of Windows 8.x, and will Microsoft continue on the ill-fated course of trying to have the same version of Windows (and the same tile interface) run on desktops, notebooks, tablets and phones?

• How will Microsoft square its traditional role as a software provider to hardware OEMs with its increasingly aggressive push on the Surface and the purchase of Nokia’s hardest business?

• What’s the role of Office in Microsoft’s future? Will it be a cash cow on the desktop, or a subscriber product in the cloud? “Both” is not a good answer.

• Microsoft has forked many products in order to have both local and cloud-based versions, like Office, SharePoint and even Windows itself. What will this look like in five or 10 years?

• How long are you going to hang onto Windows RT?

• Beyond product placement in the TV show “Elementary,” and commercials showing clicking keyboards, how will you convince consumers to embrace Windows 8?

• What does Microsoft stand for? With a huge number of products, the company tries to be everything to everyone. That hasn’t been working very well. Forget trying to copy Apple and Google: What does the Microsoft brand represent to consumers, to developers and to business buyers?

• What will happen to Microsoft’s billions of dollars of excess cash? The company could buy stock back or pay out big dividends to shareholders. The company could make bold acquisitions. It should do something with all that money.

• And if you make a bold acquisition, how will you ensure that it doesn’t fail? Microsoft’s track record is not good.

In his letter to Microsoft employees on Feb. 4, Nadella wrote:

In our early history, our mission was about the PC on every desk and home, a goal we have mostly achieved in the developed world. Today we’re focused on a broader range of devices. While the deal is not yet complete, we will welcome to our family Nokia devices and services and the new mobile capabilities they bring us.

As we look forward, we must zero in on what Microsoft can uniquely contribute to the world. The opportunity ahead will require us to reimagine a lot of what we have done in the past for a mobile and cloud-first world, and do new things.

Mobile-first. Cloud-first. New things. I’m not exactly sure what those mean to a company that still makes the bulk of its money from Windows OEM licenses and selling boxes of Office DVDs.

Bill Gates is back. Steve Ballmer is out. Satya Nadella is up. Let’s see what happens next.

What do you think of Microsoft’s direction? Write me at

Alan Zeichick, founding editor of SD Times, is principal analyst of Camden Associates.