Microsoft

John Gapper

BlackBerry’s belated decision to focus on corporate customers, amid the uncertainty over its future, is further evidence of how hard it is to bridge the gap between business and retail markets in mobile.

Both Microsoft and BlackBerry have been stranded by the shift toward consumer power in buying mobile devices. Individuals are no longer happy to take the smartphones their employers want. Read more

John Gapper

The news that Stephen Elop is receiving a pay-off of €18.8m to move from Nokia back to Microsoft will be the last nail in the coffin of his reputation in Finland, where many people resent what happened under his leadership of the national champion.

Mr Elop’s decision, on becoming chief executive of Nokia in 2010 to bet the future of its mobile phones on Microsoft Windows software, didn’t work. He rejected the more obvious path of adopting Android for its smartphones. Instead, Nokia has struggled to turn Windows into a rival to the Google platform or Apple’s iOS.

As the Lex column notes, Mr Elop is getting the money despite Nokia’s market capitalisation having fallen from €28bn to €18bn under his leadership. That hardly suggests he deserves a big payout. Read more

The life and career of Ronald Coase, who died last week aged 102, spanned the century in which modern management developed. That is appropriate, because Coase contributed immeasurably to our understanding of the potential and limits of the basic management unit that is the modern company.

Many years back, an American friend who was visiting London from New York remarked on the odd way in which people were walking around with blocks of plastic held to their ears. “Why don’t they just use normal phones?” she asked.

Lucy Kellaway

First came Ben & Jerry’s. Now we have a new brand: Steve & Stephen. It sounds like a men’s hairdressing salon, but turns out to be the sign-off used by Steve Ballmer and Stephen Elop in their open letter telling the world that Steve at Microsoft has bought Stephen’s Nokia handsets.

The effect leaves me feeling slightly queasy. The ampersand usually belongs to more formal pairings – Johnson & Johnson or Dun & Bradstreet – and to see it joining two first names like that gives the new “brand” a cheeky, snappy feel. Read more

Andrew Hill

What is the Finnish for “I told you so”? That is how plenty of Finns – including a large number of ex-Nokians, swept out in successive restructurings since Stephen Elop took charge of Nokia in 2010 – will greet news that Microsoft is to buy the mobile company’s handset and services business.

It won’t make any difference to them that Nokia has an increasingly important telecoms equipment business, NSN, which guarantees a future to the rump of the company. Since the radical strategy shift of the mid-1990s, when the timber-to-tyres conglomerate refocused on its fledgling telecoms operation, Nokia has been identified with home-grown phones. But a second coming under Finnish ownership for the country’s best-known consumer brand turned out to be impossible: its future will now be dictated from Redmond not Espoo.

This outcome, or a version of it, was already in the air in early 2011 when I visited Nokia’s headquarters to look at the challenges facing Mr Elop. His decision to leap from a “burning platform”, as he called it, into the arms of Microsoft as software partner for its smartphones certainly ruled out other options, such as using Google’s Android or a home-grown operating system. But a full takeover of the phones business by the US company was not inevitable.

Four elements have conspired to make it happen. Read more

John Gapper

Steve Ballmer of Microsoft

Steve Ballmer. Image by Getty.

No chief executive wants the company’s shares to jump sharply on the news that he or she is stepping down.

Pent-up relief, however, was the reaction to Steve Ballmer’s decision to retire as Microsoft chief executive within a year.

It has been a long time coming. Mr Ballmer has struggled mightily since becoming the boss in 2000 to keep Microsoft at the front of the computing and software industry, but has allowed it to be eclipsed by Google and Apple. Read more

In the browser wars that began in the 1990s, it took more than a decade for regulators to stop Microsoft exploiting its dominance with users of Windows software. In today’s mobile battles, customers have done so themselves in six months. Microsoft’s rapid retreat over Windows 8 – the latest, mobile-inspired, version of its operating software – shows wise flexibility rather than its traditional obstinacy. But it also demonstrates that Steve Ballmer, the company’s chief executive, has lost the power to “embrace and extend” the Windows hegemony into new fields.