Something interesting has happened at big tech events in the past week such as Apple’s iPhone 6S launch and Salesforce’s annual Dreamforce conference: Microsoft has taken pride-of-place on the main stage.
It’s left many searching for answers. CNBC, for example, reported Microsoft’s presence on an Apple stage was a bit like the time “hell froze over”.
But the truth of why Microsoft is suddenly appearing in places it previously would never have been seen or invited to is likely to be down to the influence and direction of CEO Satya Nadella.
“What is it you do as a CEO? It’s about curation of culture,” Nadella told the Dreamforce 15 conference in San Francisco.
“We can talk a lot about vision – and of course if I get the vision wrong or my judgement about where to focus wrong, we can create issues. But my real job is curation of culture.”
One of the big culture changes driven by Nadella is fostering closer ties with other large industry players – in recognition that customers are no longer interested in buying all their systems from a single stack.
“How is our industry going to succeed? It’s only going to succeed if we can add value to our customers,” Nadella said.
“Our customers are going to make choices that make the most sense for them, and they’re not going to be homogenous choices. They’re going to use multiple platforms.
“And it’s incumbent on us - especially those of us who are platform vendors - to partner broadly to solve real pain points our customers have.”
Nadella indicated it wasn’t the case where everybody would become friends. Apple’s launch is perhaps a case in point – Microsoft effectively spoke at an event where Apple launched a tablet that it hoped would rival Microsoft’s Surface Pro.
“You’re going to compete vigorously in certain domains,” Nadella said.
However, Nadella said he is more focused on trying to put digital technology into the hands of as many people as possible.
Hence, being at Apple and Salesforce events supported Microsoft’s new vision for computing as well as “the realities of our customers”, Nadella said to applause at the Salesforce event.
The future of computing
Nadella used his time at Dreamforce to outline his vision for the future of computing and to demonstrate some of the components that Microsoft has developed.
The company’s forthcoming HoloLens augmented reality headset continues to capture imagination for what might be possible.
And Nadella revealed he’s already using a HoloLens at home to test its capabilities.
“It is just simply mindblowing,” he said.
“I’ve been using it over the last multiple months on a pretty constant basis, and for me even it’s just such a different type of computer.”
Nadella said he wore HoloLens at home even while having conversations. He also liked it so far as a digital learning device.
“I put up Coursera on one side [of the vision] and I have my Edge browser on the other and I found this is a fantastic digital learning platform,” he said.
Microsoft remains on track to push out a developer kit for HoloLens sometime next year.
“We want to get it out to developers and enterprises, and then we’ll learn from them,” Nadella said.
“But we’ll get it out next year and then we’ll iterate from there.”
Nadella said that while some potential enterprise use cases were “easy to imagine” – such as uses by industrial designers and architects – this was likely only to be scratching the surface of use cases for HoloLens.
“There’s lots of different things and time will tell, but we’re very clear that there are some enterprise scenarios that we think are going to be really big hits,” he said.
Disclosure: Ry Crozier attended Dreamforce 15 as a guest of Salesforce.