Stephan Elop supposedly thinking about making big changes at Microsoft

Stephen Elop

Peter Burrows and and Dina Blass are reporting on discussions they have had with people privy to Stephen Elop’s thinking about the future of Microsoft. Elop is the former head of the Microsoft Office division that left to become CEO of Nokia, and then led the sale of Nokia’s handset business to Microsoft, and where he has been reported to be a CEO candidate to replace Ballmer.

The Bloomberg writers misspeak a bit when they say that Microsoft’s has refused ‘to adapt Office for Apple and devices based on Google’s Android operating system’. They have made Office Mobile available on iOS, although it requires an Office 365 subscription, and the user experience is ghastly. I have less experience with the Android offering, but the basics are the same: requires Office 365 subscription, and likely to be touch-unfriendly.

But it is clear that Microsoft has been positioning Surface and Windows phones as the only place that really works with Office. And no, apparently, Elop is taking a quite radical line, seemingly advocating the backing down from that position, and accepting the need to fully support those other hardware platforms.

Elop is supposedly considering other notions that break with the Microsoft orthodoxies:

Peter Burrows and and Dina Blass, Microsoft CEO Candidate Elop Said to Mull Windows Shift

Besides emphasizing Office, Elop would be prepared to sell or shut down major businesses to sharpen the company’s focus, the people said. He would consider ending Microsoft’s costly effort to take on Google with its Bing search engine, and would also consider selling healthy businesses such as the Xbox game console if he determined they weren’t critical to the company’s strategy, the people said.

The elephant in the room, however, is Surface and Windows phones, which are a huge question mark. Elop is behind the development of arguably the best Windows phones and tablets, so he can’t come out and say that he’d even consider shutting down that line of business if needed, but maybe it’s too soon for that.

Elop hasn’t confirmed (or denied) any of this. And Frank Shaw, a Microsoft spokesperson, said, “We appreciate Bloomberg’s foray into fiction and look forward to future episodes.”

My bet is that Elop has talked to various board members about these ideas, and they are the ones sharing their views with Bloomberg. Perhaps there is a factional battle going on for the future direction of the company.

In recent posts, I have made the case for a future Microsoft firmly focused on being a leader in enterprise software (see Microsoft is caught in a reality-distortion field and Microsoft will rise from the ashes of Windows and Surface failures). While the company seems committed to the current Ballmer strategy, this is really the first hint that senior Microsoftoids — and CEO candidates — are finally acknowledging that it may not just be execution or timing that’s at issue, but the fundamental strategy may be flawed.