Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was a very bright guy and capable CEO who also had a very bad habit of casually brushing off competitors who actually deserved to be taken very seriously. Recall his infamous dismissals of the iPhone and of Android, for example, to see how Ballmer ridiculing a product became a reverse-kiss-of-death — in other words, Ballmer trashing a rival offering was almost a guarantee that it would become a success.
I bring this up today in light of the news that Microsoft has surprisingly agreed to work more closely to better integrate Dropbox with its hugely popular Microsoft Office productivity software. As The Verge reports, “the surprise partnership will benefit Dropbox users who use Office across desktop, mobile, and the web as Microsoft’s productivity suite will soon become the standard way to edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files stored on Dropbox storage.”
What does this have to do with Ballmer, you ask? Let’s recall that it was as recently as early 2013 when Ballmer said that Dropbox was just a “little startup” that posed no threat to Microsoft’s own OneDrive cloud service. Even when someone pointed out to Ballmer that Dropbox at the time counted more than 100 million users (it now has well over 200 million), Ballmer shrugged off these numbers because they were just consumers and not hardcore business users. And hey, who ever heard of a company doing well by selling its products and services to consumers?
At the very least, Microsoft’s big deal with Dropbox is yet another sign that new CEO Satya Nadella is much more pragmatic and open to change than Ballmer was during his tenure. While Ballmer made it his goal for years to protect “Windows, Windows Windows!” at all costs, Nadella has shown himself to be much more open to bringing Microsoft’s core pieces of software to rival platforms. And with the Dropbox deal, Nadella has shown that he’s willing to even let rival cloud storage services play nicely with his company’s prized productivity software.
This is a big change from the way Microsoft used to do business and, in my opinion, it’s a very positive one for both consumers and business users everywhere.