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Satya Nadella wants to “reinvent” productivity — which is the wrong direction for Microsoft.

Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft. Photographed on MS Redmond Campus, February 1 2014.

The era of a focus on “devices and services” came to a quick and unceremonious end Thursday, as Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella plotted a new direction for the company in a 3,000 word memo published online into the world of focusing on “productivity and platform”.

“At our core, Microsoft is the productivity and platform company for the mobile-first and cloud-first world. We will reinvent productivity to empower every person and every organization on the planet to do more and achieve more,” he wrote. “We will reinvent productivity for people who are swimming in a growing sea of devices, apps, data and social networks. We will build the solutions that address the productivity needs of groups and entire organizations as well as individuals by putting them at the center of their computing experiences.”

On the surface, this new strategy for Microsoft seems sensible. After all one of Microsoft’s most reliable sources of profit comes from its Office suite.

But at the same time, Microsoft is trying to wade into an area of which Google has undisputed dominance. For small and medium sized businesses, Google is almost exclusively synonymous with cloud and online document editing. Granted, the enterprise market is much bigger by license volume but these types of organizations, comparatively, take eons to change their habits. While a nimble 100-person firm could conceivably adopt a “reinvented” productivity enhancing product in a number of weeks, it would take quarters or years for an enterprise-sized company to adopt the same software. Then the company would have to assess if its even worth it and compatible with its existing, and sometimes proprietary software.

Microsoft is not Google

The example of course is Windows 8. Many enterprise-sized firms that use proprietary software (as an example: a large game studio using a cross-platform development application) refused to embrace it, instead sticking with Windows 7, because of cost-compatibility issues. Windows 7 simply provides a good-enough and optimized experience already to even consider an upgrade to Windows 8.

Going back to Nadella’s plan to “reinvent productivity for people who are swimming in a growing sea of devices, apps, data and social networks” it’s unlikely that Microsoft will have success convincing anyone to put faith in something which sounds like a better fit for Google. Trying to compete with Google in this market is the wrong direction for Microsoft. Quick innovation is not something the company does well, and given the success of Microsoft in the mobile space customers don’t seem to have the appetite for Microsoft’s products outside of spaces the company is traditionally associated with.

Coming to that topic, there is one sharp and sensible highlight in this memo: more support for Microsoft Office as a platform agnostic application. In the enterprise world, Office is the undisputed king and this is something that would be adopted post-haste (particularly in BYOD offices).

But Microsoft has to be more than a company that just makes Office and has cloud-based products that Google will no doubt do better. Microsoft should certainly focus on adapting itself for a market with different tastes, but at the same time it also needs to play to its strengths. This might mean a smaller Microsoft — and layoffs are likely in the works — but it will be a much more effective Microsoft.

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