Satya Nadella changed Microsoft.
That’s the assessment of Microsoft Executive VP for Windows and Devices Terry Myerson who was recalling the very first staff meeting with the newly installed CEO three years ago.
“He deeply was convicted about refreshing our mission statement,” said Myerson, who sat down with me a few weeks ago, just hours after unveiling Windows 10 S and the Surface Laptop.
Myerson looked a little drained (“I kind of feel like I go down in a dark cave for two days before these events”) and was careful not to tip anything coming at this week’s Build Developer’s Conference, but he wanted to explain Microsoft’s transition from a company that builds good products to one that more intentionally marries form and function. It all started, it seems with the new mission statement:
“To empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.”
Nadella, Myerson told me, wanted Microsoft to ingest the mission statement so it became part of company culture, “as the purpose behind what we were doing every day.”
Nadella, it seems, agonized over every single word. Myerson described Nadella’s process:
“‘Should we say, “Everyone on the planet” or should we not? Is that necessary?’”
“‘Should we say people and organizations or just people or just organizations?’”
“‘Is empower the right verb in the mission statement?’”
Getting it right was important because it would define Microsoft and its future projects.
“[Nadella has] internalized that as a mission behind everything that we’re doing and has led our culture behind that. That is now why we do everything we do at Microsoft.”
That effort to “empower” has led, somewhat naturally, to Microsoft’s new focus on creators.
It’s a somewhat risky framing device as not everyone thinks of themselves as “creative,” but Myerson and Microsoft aren’t just thinking about artists, musicians, and designers.
“I’m not a musician and I’m not an artist by any means, but I love being part of a creative process at work every day,” said Myerson, who joined Microsoft in 1997.
Instead of Windows users being daunted by the process of creation, Microsoft wants them to feel empowered to do things like “sculpt in code” and “paint in numbers.” If people buy that, they may embrace Microsoft’s widening Creators strategy.
“When I see someone expressing themselves in an Excel spreadsheet,” said Myerson, that’s what Microsoft means by “painting the numbers.”
It’s not all touchy-feely empowerment. Myerson can be pragmatic when it comes to platform, hardware and, especially, partner choices.
He defends, for example, Microsoft’s choice to confine Windows 10 S application download choices to the Windows Store, even if it does cut out popular apps like Chrome, which just happens to compete with Microsoft’s relatively young Edge browser.
Myerson acknowledged Chrome’s absence, but added, “Certainly the policies we have for store ingestion are there only to protect the performance and security of system.”
It’s true, Google could add Chrome at any time and, Myerson noted, there are other browser choices in the Windows Store.
Windows 10 S is designed specifically to attract the sometimes-cash and IT-strapped education market, one that is often choosing super-cheap Chromebooks and the low-cost Google Docs platform over Windows.
Windows 10 S addresses some of the education market’s security, speed, and management concerns, but the Surface Laptop that was announced on the same day offers, at $999, no respite for budget woes.
When I asked Myerson why Microsoft doesn’t build a budget Surface device, he made it clear that he understands the appeal of and need for sub-$200 devices
“It’s awesome to have these $189 Windows education devices,” he said, “but to be honest, you know, at $229, at $259, at $299, there’s is more value at each tier. More ruggedization, pen, touch. Students and schools will get more out of that.
“At the same time, when I hear about a school district buying 10,000 devices at $189, I understand the prioritization they’re doing. They’re making the right decision for their school district.”
It’s still the role of the Windows OEM partners, which Myerson said he genuinely values, to offer a wider value/price/capabilities spectrum.
“So, if a school does have $20 to trade off, per device, they can decide how much they put into ruggedization, how much they put into touch, or pen. That’s why our partner ecosystem is so valuable,” said Meyerson. “The bar that I think they’re holding us to is: Are we innovating and growing the Windows ecosystem that they have bet their businesses on.”
It sounds both right and somewhat diplomatic, especially when you consider how Microsoft has created a PC brand out of Surface, one that could ultimately rival Dell or HP.
There’s no question Microsoft will continue to honor, work with, and support its partners, but Myerson (and Nadella’s) Microsoft is about something more.
Myerson told me that around the time that Nadella joined, many in the company were watching a Ted Talk about what makes a great company and how these companies not only understand what they’re building, but why they’re building it, too.
And, in part, out of that, Myerson said, came a deeper purpose and one that may explain the constant references at the Build Conference to empowerment and creativity (and even love).
“Let’s focus there across everything we’re doing and build deep meaning behind, deeper meaning that answers why these products will have an impact more than just the fact that they’re beautiful,” said Myerson.