Cooperation Is The New Normal At Microsoft

When Microsoft settled its patent lawsuits with Google yesterday, it ended a long battle with the search giant, but it wasn’t an isolated action. It was part of a continuing pattern of serving its customers instead of its corporate ego. Whether it’s evolving agreements with Apple, Salesforce or Box or putting an end to senseless lawsuits, Microsoft is attempting to present an entirely new public face and fresh way of doing business.

In a Bloomberg report yesterday, the two companies ended their fight with a statement of cooperation:

“Google and Microsoft have agreed to collaborate on certain patent matters and anticipate working together in other areas in the future to benefit our customers,” the technology giants said in a joint statement.”

Notice the focus on customers. That’s not a coincidence.

When I talk to analysts and other industry watchers, I’ve heard a consistent story. CIOs want their tools to work together. They want their vendors to work together, and vendors who are at war with one another can’t possibly be collaborating. It’s just too hard.

Microsoft appears to be listening. It doesn’t hurt that like many large companies, Microsoft sees a shifting marketplace. Surely CEO Satya Nadella realizes the status quo, which was Microsoft being mostly uncooperative and filing a bunch of lawsuits, was no longer going to work.

Making Friends And Influencing People

Last week at’s Dreamforce customer conference, Nadella appeared on stage. Think about that for a moment. It wasn’t that long ago that Microsoft was suing Salesforce for patent infringement — another patent lawsuit, how about that?

Clearly there was a time when lawyers had way too much power inside of Microsoft and suing everyone in sight was the way to go, but that’s changing. People talk about the new era under Nadella, and it’s hard not to notice a concrete change that is much more than window dressing or a good PR effort.

It is incumbent upon us, especially those of us who are platform vendors to partner broadly to solve real pain points our customers have. Satya Nadella

That has meant a massive cultural shift inside the company, one which seems to have stunned some long-time industry watchers, who have been used to a Microsoft that was traditionally difficult to work with. That’s no longer the case under Nadella, and the change is palpable to anyone paying attention.

Nadella appearing at Dreamforce was part of that. Microsoft and Salesforce products work together and there is an increasing spirit of cooperation and camaraderie that Benioff expressed in his introduction.

“Satya and I have become good friends. We are delighted he accepted our invitation to come to the conference. He is an incredible person, an incredible visionary and an incredible leader of an incredible company,” Benioff told the packed auditorium.

That he gave such an effusive introduction was, well, incredible, but Nadella spoke more broadly when asked by Wired journalist Jessi Hempel about the challenge of partnering across the industry.

“If you look at our industry, how is our industry going to succeed? It’s only going to succeed if we can add value to our customers. Our customers are going to make choices that make the most sense for them, and it’s not going to be homogeneous choices. They are going to use all these different applications and multiple platforms. It is incumbent upon us, especially those of us who are platform vendors to partner broadly to solve real pain points our customers have,” Nadella said.

He added that he doesn’t see this as a zero sum competitive game. Of course Microsoft will compete hard within markets, but he sees such a huge opportunity around digital transformation, and these partnerships can only help amplify that.

Box, Apple and Microsoft Sitting In A Tree

The other day at BoxWorks, the Box customer conference, more conviviality was on display on stage. As with Salesforce, Box and Microsoft have not always had an easy relationship. Box made its early reputation with huge billboards on Route 101 in California making fun of Microsoft SharePoint, one of its earliest competitive targets.

Box is like SharePoint without the...billboard from 2009.

Courtesy of Box


But times change and companies change and Box is making a slew of important friends including Apple, IBM and Microsoft. In fact, Box showed off how well integrated its services are with Microsoft’s cloud-based Office 365. CEO Aaron Levie pointed out that customers who use Box are demanding this integration and the two companies are giving it to them.

Apple too is finding ways to make friends with Microsoft. For years, the companies have been bitter rivals, but Tim Cook, speaking at BoxWorks on Tuesday attempted to bury the hatchet.

“Apple and Microsoft can partner on more things than we can compete on, and that is what the customer wants…Office on the Mac is a force,” Cook told the audience. “Partnering with Microsoft is great for our customers and that’s why we do it.”

There it is again: It’s what our customers want. Microsoft certainly recognizes that. Their new frenemies do too. Customers are insisting on a high level of integration and everyone is listening and trying to work together.

A couple of years ago, this kind of esprit de corps among these disparate companies would have been unthinkable. Today it’s the standard way of doing business and Microsoft is transforming before our eyes to be a part of it.