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Summary:

Microsoft co-founder and former chairman Bill Gates is a high-profile and valued advisor, but advising is all he’s doing, according to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO
photo: Microsoft

In case there was any doubt — and there probably was — Satya Nadella wants the world to know that he is running Microsoft, not former company chairman and co-founder Bill Gates.

In comments at Re/code’s first Code event (which Gigaom liveblogged), Nadella stressed that while Bill Gates is a key advisor, he is just that — an advisor, not “the man” in Redmond.

“I run the place…Bill’s helping,” Nadella said.

This should be reassuring. While most of the blame for Microsoft’s missteps over the past few years, including its late entry into mobile, was attributed to former Nadella’s predecessor Steve Ballmer, Gates himself has a lot to answer for in those miscues.

Former and current execs admit that it took the company years to recover from the Vista debacle, in which Gates played a huge role. There was also his damaging performance during the years-long U.S. Department of Justice antitrust case against the company.

A promising start…

What will Nadella do now to put his stamp on the company? By many accounts, morale at Microsoft is already improving after the drawn-out CEO search. Nadella won good reviews for his performance on the company’s earnings call, and his talking points about supporting Android and iOS devices via the Azure cloud also went over well. Microsoft has done a good job building Azure into a massive cloud and a potential threat to Amazon Web Services and Google’s emerging cloud, which the company’s top cloud guy Scott Guthrie will discuss at Structure in a few weeks.

But all that was in motion before Nadella took over. What can he do to prove that this is his Microsoft?

But what’s next?

Nadella could spend some of Microsoft’s $88 billion in cash to buy strategic technologies or companies. Geekwire’s Todd Bishop helpfully listed 10 possible acquisitions, including some wild cards like Netflix. More realistically, Box would make an interesting buy for Microsoft as many observers have posited for months.

Box would provide Microsoft a cross-platform way to sync enterprise drives to the cloud, and it offers admin-friendly analytics and tracking. And Box already integrates with Yammer, the enterprise instant messaging company Microsoft bought two years ago.

And, in theory anyway, Microsoft could put Box onto its Azure cloud (Box now runs its own data centers). “That’s a fantastic moat to make Azure sticky in the enterprise,” said Sravish Sridhar, CEO of Kinvey, a mobile development company that keeps a close eye on the industry. “Microsoft could say, your files are already in Azure, now build around them,” he said.

Adding Box complicates an already confusing Microsoft file-sync-and-share picture — Microsoft OneDrive and OneDrive for Business (glorified SharePoint) are not the same thing. But if Box became the go-to solution, problem solved.

Here’s another wish list item for Nadella: Lose some of the confusing SKUs and bad naming conventions that plague the company. Seriously, is there really a need for eight versions of Office 365?

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