Nadella Expands Microsoft's Mobile, Cloud Horizons With Office for iPad

NEWS ANALYSIS: Satya Nadella's first big product announcement as CEO marks a major break with the past as Microsoft Introduces Office for the iPad.

After much anticipation and 52 days as the CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella’s first big announcement centered on the company’s key business applications running on the tablets that the company once dismissed and produced by the company once rescued from the brink of oblivion by a $150 million Microsoft lifeline.

The key elements of Microsoft Office—Word, Excel and PowerPoint—are now available on the Apple iPad. You will need a $99-a-year subscription to Office 365 to make the Office iPad elements useful beyond simply read-only capabilities.

Users who think they are getting free versions of Microsoft’s cash cow just by pushing the free download button in the Apple store are going to be disappointed, but early reviews indicate the iPad versions are well designed and not simply ports of existing applications.

The shift to embracing all devices—not just those with the Windows logo—marks the long overdue cessation of the not-invented-here syndrome long enforced at Microsoft. Despite advances from Google and Apple, Microsoft's flagship Word, Excel and PowerPoint applications still represent the business foundation for most enterprises.

Nadella’s professorial approach to product introductions (including quoting T.S. Eliot) was in stark contrast to former CEO’s Steve Ballmer’s high pressure pitch or former, former CEO Bill Gates’ readiness to make light of crashing demos.

The mobile first and cloud first mantra repeated by Nadella makes a lot of sense for Microsoft which would have been well served by adopting that concept six years ago. “Today marks that beginning of exploration for us. Our customers want to know where we are going, what is our innovation agenda, and (whether) our team is really ready for it,” Nadella said.

While the high points of the demo were the Word, Excel and PowerPoint applications running on iPad (which of course I downloaded as soon as available), the more interesting products for the corporate computing world concerned the Enterprise Mobility Suite (EMS). The suite is an attempt to balance the anarchy of the bring-your-own-device philosophy with the need for corporations to maintain security, privacy and compliance.

Mobile devices coming into enterprises from all directions, data being easily transferred to cloud services and employees, contractors and customers needing differing levels of access to company data are all major unresolved issues challenging IT departments.

“What we are announcing today is both offerings and a road map to build a comprehensive enterprise architecture for IT professionals to be able to bring together their identity management, access management, device management and data protection into one suite and one enterprise architecture that works across all devices, Android, iOS, Windows. And that's really a massive step forward for anyone who has been tackling and dealing with the complexity that's inherent,” Nadella said.

EMS is a sweeping attempt to reign in chaos and leverages some of the entrenched Microsoft capabilities around Active Directory. You can get a full outline of EMS on the Microsoft blog, but the essential elements includes identity and access management via the Azure Active Directory Premium service, mobile device management and mobile application management via Windows Intune and data protection via Microsoft Azure Rights Management.

All those elements are a lot to take on for an IT department, but all those elements, whether from Microsoft or a competitor, are what will be required for companies to make the shift to the mobile first, cloud first environment.

A conversational, T.S. Eliot-quoting CEO may be just what is required to take Microsoft out of (and T.S., please forgive me) the wasteland of denying the IT trends taking place beyond the Redmond boardrooms.

Eric Lundquist is a technology analyst at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. Lundquist, who was editor-in-chief at eWEEK (previously PC WEEK) from 1996-2008 authored this article for eWEEK to share his thoughts on technology, products and services. No investment advice is offered in this article. All duties are disclaimed. Lundquist works separately for a private investment firm which may at any time invest in companies whose products are discussed in this article and no disclosure of securities transactions will be made.