Talking with Microsoft's new Office chief

Stephen Elop, president of the business division, hasn't given up his iPhone, but says he has been pleasantly surprised to find plenty of innovation at his new employer.

Ina Fried Former Staff writer, CNET News
During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley.
Ina Fried
2 min read

As a guy who spent a decade in Silicon Valley, Stephen Elop says he, too, had his doubts when he first heard about Microsoft's "software plus services" strategy.

"The initial impression of that, as an outsider, is 'Is that just a cheesy way of saying we are going to hold off as long as we can," said Elop, who was an executive at Macromedia and Adobe Systems before joining Microsoft earlier this year.

Stephen Elop
Stephen Elop Microsoft

But, if Elop was initially skeptical, he's now an ardent believer. In an interview in San Francisco last week, the president of Microsoft's business division spoke like a lifelong 'Softie, extolling the virtues of everything from SharePoint to Office Live to Microsoft's OneNote note-taking program.

Microsoft has not always been the easiest place for outsiders, particularly those who have been chief executives in their prior jobs. Elop said that's one of the things he thought about a lot before agreeing to take over for Jeff Raikes, who is leaving Microsoft after a quarter century to become head of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

In deciding to go for it, Elop said he spoke to folks who had made the transition well, such as Ray Ozzie and Kevin Turner, the former Sam's Club CEO who is now Microsoft's chief operating officer. Elop said he also talked to some for whom things didn't work out so well. (He didn't name names and there's a long list of people who fit that category.)

One of the things that became clear was it doesn't work to come into Microsoft and tell everyone how well things work at other places.

That said, Elop is not a total convert to Redmond's ways. Although he was quick to pull out a Windows Mobile smartphone when asked, he also admits that his whole family uses iPhones and that his was in the car.

These days, Elop justifies using the iPhone as him trying out competitive technologies, an effort that also has him playing with Google Docs and using a host of other Web 2.0 services.

"I'm a believer you have to experiment with these things," Elop said.

Although Elop had many of his negative perceptions changed as he interviewed at and later joined Microsoft, he also said there are some areas where he would like to see things happen faster, particularly when it comes to online services.

He didn't give out much in the way of new product details, but suggested a larger role over time for advertising-funded software. Even some businesses, he said, might want to use some ad-based software.

Elop pointed to, say, a trucking business that might use traditional software for its offices but let those on the road check their company e-mail from a Web-based service. The key word is choice, he said. Businesses will get to choose between traditional software, subscription licensing, or having Microsoft host the software itself. Consumers, meanwhile, will have options funded by a wide range of business models.