nadella build 2014 2Image: Jon Phillips

'We help people get stuff done': New Microsoft CEO dumps device and services focus, embraces productivity

Almost a year to the day after then-CEO Steve Ballmer reorganized Microsoft away from software and around a "devices and services" theme, his successor has issued a sweeping manifesto of his own, tightening company's core mission.

"While the devices and services description was helpful in starting our transformation, we now need to hone in on our unique strategy," Satya Nadella wrote.

Instead of being a devices and services company, Nadella now says that at its core, Microsoft is "the productivity and platform company for the mobile-first and cloud-first world." Perhaps to drive the point home, Nadella doesn't even mention Windows until 22 paragraphs into his screed. Windows Phone gets a shout-out first, thanks to a mention of the Cortana digital assistant.

Microsoft's focus going forward is on anywhere, everywhere productivity, be it Office-style work or less traditional definitions of the word. And yes, Nadella says Microsoft will leverage its web of devices and services to enable that.

"Productivity for us goes well beyond documents, spreadsheets and slides. We will reinvent productivity for people who are swimming in a growing sea of devices, apps, data and social networks. We will build the solutions that address the productivity needs of groups and entire organizations as well as individuals by putting them at the center of their computing experiences. We will shift the meaning of productivity beyond solely producing something to include empowering people with new insights."

That, of course, will be aided by Microsoft's machine learning and ubiquitous computing endeavors—two initiatives that Nadella has been keen to push during his short reign thus far. Those are basically fancy buzzwords for using big data and cloud computing to help you in your everyday life and delivering a seamless experience across devices, the results of which we're already starting to see in the cross-device syncing capabilities of Windows 8 and SkyDrive, as well as Microsoft's recently unveiled Universal Apps that span Windows 8 and Windows Phone alike.

Satya Nadella Office iPad launch

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella at the Office for iPad launch event.

Speaking of which, Nadella also specifically says that bringing Microsoft services to competing platforms is a goal, as the company has already started doing with Office 365 subscriptions, Office for iPad, and the arrival of OneNote, well, everywhere:

"Apps will be designed as dual use with the intelligence to partition data between work and life and with the respect for each person's privacy choices… They will be built for other ecosystems so as people move from device to device, so will their content and the richness of their services – it's one way we keep people, not devices, at the center."

Did you notice the sly digs at Google and Apple there?

Nadella makes one thing clear: While Windows and Office are still major foundations for Microsoft, simply peddling software is no longer the company's game. And while devices and services still play a large role in the Microsoft of the future, they're just tools to be used to deliver productivity experiences, not the focus in and of itself.

One short sentence, tucked into a longer paragraph deep into the letter, sums up Microsoft's refocused core mission far more succinctly than Nadella's massive manifesto: "We help people get stuff done."

All in all, Microsoft crystalized direction sounds an awful lot like PCWorld's own "Work. Life. Productivity."

What about Xbox?

xboxlivegold primary Mike Homnick

But where does that leave Xbox? During the hunt for Microsoft's new CEO, rumors swirled that the new boss would spin off or sell off the company's gaming division, as it doesn't fit neatly into the productivity tale. Nadella put those rumors to bed with a clear "Nope":

"I also want to share some additional thoughts on Xbox and its importance to Microsoft. As a large company, I think it's critical to define the core, but it's important to make smart choices on other businesses in which we can have fundamental impact and success. The single biggest digital life category, measured in both time and money spent, in a mobile-first world is gaming. We are fortunate to have Xbox in our family to go after this opportunity with unique and bold innovation.

Microsoft will continue to vigorously innovate and delight gamers with Xbox. Xbox is one of the most-revered consumer brands, with a growing online community and service, and a raving fan base. We also benefit from many technologies flowing from our gaming efforts into our productivity efforts – core graphics and NUI in Windows, speech recognition in Skype, camera technology in Kinect for Windows, Azure cloud enhancements for GPU simulation and many more. Bottom line, we will continue to innovate and grow our fan base with Xbox while also creating additive business value for Microsoft."

So there you have it. Xbox's core technology helps feed the overarching Microsoft cause in ways that aren't immediately obvious, and hey: All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, right?

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