“What are you on? The ‘fuck Windows’ strategy?” Back in the late 1990s, when Bill Gates was still Microsoft’s boss, any employee who had the temerity to suggest something that could possibly weaken the firm’s flagship operating system was sure to earn his wrath. Even after Steve Ballmer took over from Mr Gates in 2000, that remained the incontestable law at the company’s headquarters in Redmond, in Washington state. Everything Microsoft did had to strengthen Windows, to make it ever more crushingly dominant. Many of the company’s best innovations were killed because of this “strategy tax”, as it was known internally.
Today the rules are different in Redmond. The new boss who took over last year, Satya Nadella (pictured, centre, with Mr Gates to the left and Mr Ballmer on the right), recoils when he hears the term “strategy tax” and says he now tells his staff simply to “build stuff that people like”.
Yet Mr Nadella’s biggest achievement so far is that he has given Microsoft a coherent purpose in life, as it enters its fifth decade. He sums it up in two mottos. One is “mobile first, cloud first”: since these are where the growth is going to come from, all new products need to be developed for them.