Microsoft's announcement of the appointment of Satya Nadella as its third CEO  wasn't as much of a surprise as it could have been. Over the last few weeks it was clear that the company's long, and convoluted, search was coming to an end. This weekend's final papal conclave, as the board met around Seattle's Super Bowl victory, looked set to finalize that decision, and to start to reshape an industry giant.
Satya Nadella is a 22-year veteran of Microsoft, with a strong engineering background (as well as a MBA). Previously the head of the company's Cloud and Enterprise group, Nadella previously ran R&D in its Online Services division and headed the Server and Tools business. While his roles have mainly been on the enterprise side of Microsoft's business, he's worked closely with Microsoft customers that have a strong mobile and consumer focus as well as with other members of Microsoft's leadership team.
Perhaps the first indication that Nadella was a serious candidate for the role came at the company's 2013 Financial Analyst Meeting, when in a panel discussion with the rest of the leadership team, he gave answers that went beyond just his enterprise focus, addressing the rest of the organization and the future of the company in light of its One Microsoft re-organization. But it wasn't the first time he'd spoken about Microsoft as a whole. That wider view was also visible in his keynote at Microsoft's Build 2012 conference, where he described a cloud-centric Microsoft that reached across consumer and enterprise, "The central inspiration for us is very concrete on this campus. We're building a client OS, apps that exploit device capabilities, and where you also find more than 200 web scale services."
Running Microsoft's cloud and enterprise businesses has given Nadella a broader reach across the company's other groups, as Azure provides the services that are used by Xbox, Bing and Windows. It's a set of relationships that have shifted the heart of Microsoft from Windows to Azure, and have given the company a new platform where it (and its partners) can build services to support devices from phones to servers and beyond.
Nadella's vision of the future of Microsoft was at the heart of that Build 2012 keynote, where he described the company's role as the engine in a virtuous cycle, "We'll build services, and make them available to third parties". It's a Microsoft that's very much in tune with Steve Ballmer's Devices and Services vision, and one that's close to the direction of its current reorganization.
It's a wider vision too, and at the heart of Nadella's first letter to Microsoft employees  is one extremely significant paragraph:
"I believe over the next decade computing will become even more ubiquitous and intelligence will become ambient. The coevolution of software and new hardware form factors will intermediate and digitize -- many of the things we do and experience in business, life and our world. This will be made possible by an ever-growing network of connected devices, incredible computing capacity from the cloud, insights from big data, and intelligence from machine learning."
That shift from one computer on a desk to many around us is huge, and puts us in the middle of a period of change in the IT world -- both in consumer and enterprise -- that's as significant as the arrival of the PC or the birth of the Internet.
If Microsoft is to steer through the shoals of change, and still keep its place as one the industry's most significant companies, then it's important that Microsoft has a leader who can see that change and where it's going. Nadella said much the same at an event at Yammer's SF headquarters last autumn, shortly after his name was first posited as a candidate for CEO, telling his audience, "I feel what is important for us is to see these new things and not just be beholden to what we had in the past but to really deliver innovation."
Moving away from its past will be hard for Microsoft. It's hard for any company to switch direction, and harder still for one that's become so valuable. Nadella will need to work both with and against investors as he drives that change of direction, a tricky task at the best of times but one that's going to be harder as he handles both activist shareholders on the Microsoft board and the company's takeover of Nokia's devices and services business.
Nadella's views on Microsoft as a company that's both a consumer and enterprise business may well set the scene for how he may work, as he showed at the leadership Q&A at the 2013 Financial Analyst Meeting by bringing the two facets of the company together. Perhaps the key sign of a Microsoft that takes its cues from both was how he wrapped up the session, saying, "This notion that this is an enterprise product and this is a consumer product I think is not the way we will approach things. We'll think about these products as sort of meeting end user needs and enterprise IT needs, and how to balance that."
Just as significant as Nadella's appointment is Bill Gates new role as technology advisor, where he'll be giving the company he founded a third of his time. Nadella's tenure as CEO will mean a more formal relationship between the new CEO and Gates, but it's one that we expect to quickly become informal. Gates's passion for wide reading and learning seems matched by Nadella, who notes in his initial email, "Many who know me say I am also defined by my curiosity and thirst for learning. I buy more books than I can finish. I sign up for more online courses than I can complete. I fundamentally believe that if you are not learning new things, you stop doing great and useful things. So family, curiosity and hunger for knowledge all define me."
Nadella becomes CEO at the start of Microsoft's transformation from platform company to devices and services business . It's an opportunity to give the company a new vision, one that builds on its history, but looks forward to the next decade and the changes needed to support a cloud and mobile world. With Microsoft about to hold a series of major customer events, it's going to be interesting to see how Nadella articulates that vision to its customers, both enterprise and consumer -- and how the company begins to deliver.