Microsoft's promotion of a new president to run its Server and Tools Business, and rumors of Nokia adopting Windows Phone 7, dominated the week.
Microsoft's week centered on rumors that the company would join in a
smartphone partnership with Nokia, so both companies might better combat the
rising threat of Google Android and Apple's iPhone.
Research firm comScore's latest numbers, for the three months ending
December 2010, suggest that Microsoft faces a tough road ahead in regaining
momentum in the smartphone space. Over the course of the last quarter, its
share of the market dropped from 9.9 percent to 8.4 percent. Meanwhile, Apple and
Google enjoyed market-share upticks of varying strength, with Android
exhibiting a robust 7.3 percent quarterly gain.
Microsoft is in the process of easing its previous smartphone franchise,
Windows Mobile, out to pasture. In its place, the company hopes that consumers
and businesses will gravitate towards Windows Phone 7, which was released on
AT&T and T-Mobile in the U.S. in November. In contrast with Google Android
and the iPhone, which offer apps in a series of grid-like screens, Windows
Phone 7 consolidates Web content and applications into six subject-specific
Hubs, including "People" and "Games." Microsoft is
reportedly pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into its renewed smartphone
efforts, including marketing and development.
However, the results of those efforts are likely to remain unclear for
several more quarters, if not years. Microsoft has confirmed that more than 2
million Windows Phone 7 devices have been sold by manufacturers to retailers
since the launch, but continues to offer little data on how many of those might
have reached consumers' hands.
That leads us to the Nokia rumors gaining traction in the blogosphere
throughout the week. Like Microsoft, Nokia finds itself in pitched battle
against Google and Apple. In addition, Microsoft and Nokia are already
connected on several levels: not only have the two collaborated on software for
the latter's smartphones, but new-ish Nokia CEO
Stephen Elop was formerly president of Microsoft's Business Division.
With Nokia's market-share falling, Elop set Feb. 11 as the date for
revealing a radical new business strategy that would allow the company to
regain some of its former dominance. That reorganization would not only see the
departure of several senior Nokia managers, according to a Feb. 7 article in The Wall Street Journal, but possibly
the adoption of either Google Android or Windows Phone 7.
According to an
unnamed source speaking to Bloomberg BusinessWeek Feb. 10, Elop and
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer have been
engaged in talks about porting Windows Phone 7 onto Nokia devices. Elop
apparently had similar conversations with Google CEO
Eric Schmidt, according to the source, but "those discussions are unlike
to lead to an alliance."
Should a Nokia-Microsoft alliance develop over Windows Phone 7, it could
prove beneficial to both parties. "You get access to their WP7
intellectual property Scot-free and access to the U.S.
market where your share has dived to the low single-digit level, and in doing
[so] cut your bloated handset business R&D budget," Berenberg Bank
analyst Adnaan Ahmad wrote in a Jan. 31 letter addressed to both CEOs.
But others are convinced that an Android partnership might serve Nokia
better in the long run. Adopting the Google-built smartphone OS, according to
analyst Jack Gold, would let the manufacturer "get to market very quickly
with a line of compelling smartphone devices that are competitive while giving
current Nokia users a migration path with a familiar UI paradigm."
The Nokia situation wasn't the only one this week hinting at Microsoft's
efforts in next-paradigm tech such as mobile and the cloud. Microsoft took
another step in its "all in" cloud strategy Feb. 9 with the promotion
of senior vice president Satya Nadella to president of the company's Server and
Nadella formerly oversaw technical strategy for Microsoft's Online Services
Division, helping launch Bing and implement the massive search-and-advertising
deal with Yahoo. Prior to that, he led Microsoft Business Solutions and worked
on the engineering side of the company's server group.
"In deciding who should take the business forward, we wanted someone
with the right mix of leadership, vision and hard-core engineering chops,"
Ballmer wrote in a Feb. 9 e-mail to employees. "We wanted someone who
could define the future of business computing and further expand our ability to
bring the cloud to business customers and developers in game-changing ways."
Nadella, who replaces Bob Muglia, will presumably carry out what Ballmer
previously termed as the Server and Tools Business' move into "the era of
In his own Feb. 9 email to employees, Nadella wrote: "We are seeing our
existing customers move to the cloud to address issues of cost and complexity;
tomorrow, our work as leaders in innovation will result in new scenarios and
workloads. . .enabled in the cloud."
Microsoft's cloud strategy takes multiple forms: In addition to productivity
platforms such as Office 365 and cloud-ported entertainment via Xbox Live,
Ballmer has repeatedly touted a vision in which businesses subscribe to
cloud-based services in place of maintaining exclusively on-premises IT
infrastructure. Microsoft itself is leveraging its experience running massive cloud
services such as Bing and Hotmail to inform how it builds out those
enterprise-centric cloud platforms.
Even as Microsoft figures out how to best implement its strategy for the
cloud, it's obviously considering the most effective ways to put its smartphones
in as many users' hands as possible. Its relationships with Nokia have the
potential to help do just that.
Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.