The Exchange

New Microsoft CEO Nadella breaks from the past with Office for iPads

The Exchange
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks at a Microsoft event in San Francisco
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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks at a Microsoft event in San Francisco, California March 27, 2014. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

“To start this, I’m going to go to my iPad…”

Satya Nadella kicked off his first-ever product unveiling as Microsoft (MSFT) CEO with a fast-talking spiel that sounded nothing like either of his predecessors, Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates.

And the new product he came to showcase represented perhaps the biggest break of all: the long-awaited, long-rumored, long-delayed version of Microsoft Office for the iPad.

As demonstrated by product manager Julia White, who started with the iPad quote above, the new versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint looked pretty amazing."The iPad has a reputation for helping you look cool," she said. "With Excel, it can make you look smart, too."

The entire user experience was re-fashioned to work with fingers on a screen instead of a mouse and hardware keyboard. On Twitter, some declared it looked better than even the latest PC version.

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Nadella, dressed in a brown polo shirt and jeans, started the event off with declarations of humility and a reference to the poet T.S. Eliot, quickly making clear that a new era had begun. “You should never cease from exploration, and at the end exploring, you arrive where you started and know the place for the first time,” he said.

The result of Nadella’s exploration was a big policy shift. No longer will Microsoft restrict its best and most popular goodies to Windows. From now on, the company will seek to spread its software and services “across the Web, all phones, all tablets, all PCs,”  he said.

To a large degree, that reflects on the failure of Nadella’s predecessor, Steve Ballmer, to extend the dominance of Windows to portable devices. Windows software has minimal market share in both smartphones and tablets, which are dominated by Apple’s (AAPL) iOS and Google’s (GOOG) Android.

Microsoft investors have been excited about the new revenue an iPad version of Office might bring in from the 1 billion customers already using other versions. Shares of Microsoft hit a 14-year high of $40.99 this week as anticipation grew about the iPad app. The shares traded down to $39.48 over the past two days amid a tough market overall for technology stocks.

White’s demo moved swiftly from an Apple iPad to a Samsung tablet to a giant-screen Perceptive Pixel monitor to a Windows PC.

Anyone with an iPad will be able to download the new Office apps for free from Apple’s iTunes app store starting today, White explained. The free versions allow users to read or present Office files. But only users who have paid for an Office 365 subscription, $99 a year for a typical consumer, will be able to edit and create documents, she explained.

Nadella also made an appeal to IT professionals in big companies who may have been stressing out about the proliferation of devices employees are bringing from home and using for work. Microsoft plans to beef up its device management offerings to help IT departments manage all the “BYOD” activity, he said.

Microsoft's board named Nadella as CEO in February after a five-month search to replace Ballmer. Nadella said he asked Gates to spend more time at Microsoft to help him get the software giant back on track as the computing market shifts increasingly from desktop PCs and software programs to mobile devices and Internet-based cloud services.

The Windows operating system itself, the company’s cash cow for the past few decades, was almost an afterthought at Thursday's event. Nadella said Microsoft would announce further innovations relating to Windows at a conference next week.

The latest version, Windows 8, has been a critical and marketplace dud. Ballmer put almost all the company’s efforts into bolstering Windows, even holding back the Office for iPad apps for years, according to some reports.

As he left the stage, Nadella repeated his theme of the day: “There’s no holding back on anything.”

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