Interview with Microsoft President Stephen Elop

elop-wharton-tech-conference.jpgKnowledge@Wharton today published my interview with Microsoft Business Division president Stephen Elop. The discussion covered a wide range of topics, including Microsoft’s vision for “software plus services,” the importance of user experience, balancing antitrust concerns with product interoperability, and how the company is responding to the current economic conditions.

Before we spoke, Elop presented the keynote address at the Wharton Business Technology Conference where he debuted a “concept” video titled “A Glimpse Ahead” that paints a vision of where Microsoft believes technology is headed in the next decade.

In large part, the video is intended to counteract the frequently-voiced claim that Microsoft is not innovative. As Adobe Systems co-founder and co-chairman Chuck Geschke told me last fall, “[Microsoft] has never invented anything that I am aware of. They clone someone else’s idea and use their market position to try and force their way into the business.” In contrast to this view, Elop intends for Microsoft to “stake out the position that we’re driving innovation more aggressively than we’ve ever done in the past.”

The video is also aimed at demonstrating a renewed focus on user experience. As Steve Jobs asserted a long time ago, “The only problem with Microsoft is: they just have no taste.” Elop hopes to correct this situation. One of Elop’s six “strategic imperatives” for his division is to “delight our customers with unparalleled experiences.” He realizes that this has not always been a strength of Microsoft, stating, “Microsoft does this sometimes; other times it does not.” Elop hopes to bring some of the aesthetic panache of his former employers — Adobe and Macromedia — to the Redmond company, stating “I came from companies where the experience is fundamentally the differentiator.” Indeed, when Elop worked for Macromedia, the company’s the marketing slogan was “Experience Matters.”

In the interview Elop emphasizes Microsoft’s ability to deliver a suite of tools in which “the whole is more than the sum of the parts.” In doing so, he walks a fine line between stressing the added value of this interconnectivity while seeking to sidestep antitrust issues. He carefully distinguishes between “integration,” which would raise antitrust concerns, and the “interoperability” that allows competitors to leverage Microsoft technologies in their products.

Elop also discusses how Microsoft is responding to the current economic situation by “doubling down” rather than retrenching:

We take a lot of heat: “Boy, you’re really continuing to invest $9 billion in R&D.” But now is the time to double down and actually make those investments, [so that when the recovery starts] we’re in a strong position and can take a share and be more successful than we were in the past.

For the full interview, see:

Photos from Elop’s presentation at the Wharton Business Technology Conference are in my Flickr account:

 

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