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Does Ballmer’s shadow still loom over Microsoft?

February 4th, 2015 at 9:00 PM
Microsoft CEO Nadella Vs. Ballmer

It’s been a year since Satya Nadella took over but there’s some debate among Microsoft observers over just how much he’s left his stamp on the company. On the one hand, we have The Wall Street Journal’s Shira Ovide, who writes that Nadella has drastically changed Microsoft’s approach to dealing with Silicon Valley. On the other, we have Ars Technica’s Peter Bright, who argues that Microsoft remains Ballmer’s company despite giving Nadella credit for changing its overall image.

RELATED: New report suggests Ballmer screamed his way out of a job

We’ll start with Ovide’s case.

“Startups and venture-capital firms stay in close touch with Microsoft executives, collaborate to make sure their own products work seamlessly with Microsoft’s, and root for the company’s success,” she writes. “The biggest reason: Satya Nadella , who on Wednesday marks his first anniversary at Microsoft’s CEO. In the past year, Mr. Nadella has charmed Silicon Valley through energetic personal diplomacy.”

Now let’s hear Bright’s rejoinder.

“Less than two months into [Nadella’s term], Microsoft did what had long been rumored but often considered as unthinkable: it released Office for iPad,” he writes. “The move was heralded as a great change… Except, of course, Office for iPad wasn’t actually developed in the 52 days between Satya Nadella taking the CEO role and the release of the software. It started long before — back when Steve Ballmer was still CEO. This new, Nadella-led Microsoft was following in the footsteps of the old, Ballmer-led company.”

Looking at both arguments, we think Bright’s holds up slightly better. Companies are never about one person and Ballmer himself realized that Microsoft needed to change in the years leading up to his departure.

Where Nadella has been an important figure, however, has been being a credible ambassador for executing Ballmer’s basic blueprint. Whereas Ballmer has admitted in the past that he may have been too “big, bald and loud” to effectively change Microsoft’s image, Nadella has been much better building partnerships with other companies than Ballmer would have been.

Nonetheless, Ballmer’s fingerprints remain all over Microsoft and he does deserve credit for a lot of the big changes the company has made.

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