8 Interesting Moments From Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella's Code Conference Talk

Nadella Hits The Stage

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is a polished public speaker. He's got talking points that are by now comfortably worn, and he doesn't tend to stray far from them. On Wednesday, however, Nadella sat down with legendary tech reporters Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg -- who aren't known for softball questions -- at Re/Code's inaugural Code Conference.

In some ways, this was Nadella's biggest media test since taking over as Microsoft CEO in February. He fielded questions about everything from Microsoft's $7.2 billion acquisition of Nokia, to its plans for competing with Google in search, and what Bill Gates is doing now that he's pledged to spend a third of his time on Microsoft-related work.

Following are eight examples of interesting moments that jumped out at us during the Nadella interview, as excerpted from Re/Code's live blog of the event.

All photos by Asa Mathat, Re/Code

8. On Microsoft's Mobile Struggles

Swisher and Mossberg wasted no time in asking Nadella what the heck happened to Microsoft's mobile business, which was poised for great things a decade ago. Why isn't Microsoft a force in smartphones and tablets? "Life without challenges is not worth living," Nadella responded.

Microsoft launched a version of Windows for tablets back in 2002, but that early effort didn't work out as planned. Nadella, in explaining what went wrong, said cryptically, "You have to have patience and you have to have the right amount of impatience."

Microsoft already has lost around $2 billion on Surface since launching its first devices in October 2012, according to Nomura Securities. But Nadella, in the interview, suggested Microsoft didn't stay focused on tablets the first time around, which could mean it's planning to stay the course on Surface. "On the tablet side, I really wish we had taken the bet all the way," Nadella said of Microsoft's early tablet efforts.

7. On Bill Gates' Current Microsoft Role

Bill Gates stepped down as chairman of Microsoft's board in February, but he's said he still plans to spend around one-third of his time helping Nadella chart a course for Microsoft's future.

Swisher asked Nadella what Gates is doing at Microsoft these days, but Nadella mostly dodged the question.

"We definitely are going to have more people coming to Microsoft. At the end of the day, though, it is about the renewal of the place. He wants people to focus on what they can say 'yes' to rather than saying 'no.' "

Nadella also made it clear that he's in charge of leading Microsoft while Gates is helping out strictly in an advisory role. Gates also has "some specific interests on Office and how to reinvent it," Nadella said.

6. On Microsoft's Acquisition Of Nokia

Mossberg noted that Microsoft's acquisition of Nokia gives the company in excess of 100,000 employees. Nadella responded that size doesn't necessarily have to be a disadvantage, and all of these employees are doing lots of different things.

"The efforts need to be loosely coupled, but tightly aligned," Nadella said, echoing a well-worn rationale used by tech companies with lots of different parts.

The "One Microsoft" plan that former CEO Steve Ballmer laid out in last July's reorganization still stands, but it's more at a "vision level," Nadella said.

5. On Whether He Was In Favor of Acquiring Nokia

Swisher asked Nadella whether he supported Microsoft's acquisition of Nokia when the deal was first announced. "I'm not going to answer that," Nadella responded. Later, he said, "We are a software company at the end of the day."

Nadella, Gates and other Microsoft board members were initially opposed to the Nokia deal, which was driven by Ballmer, according to a Bloomberg Businessweek report in March.

4. On Competing With Google

Google is Microsoft's "white whale," a nemesis that occupies a disproportionate amount of its competitive energies compared to the software giant's many other rivals.

Swisher asked Nadella if Microsoft will maintain the same competitive focus on Google under his leadership. He responded that Bing has 18 percent market share -- 30 percent if you count the Yahoo traffic it handles -- but said Bing is more strategic than just search.

Nadella also dismissed recent chatter that Microsoft may sell its search business to Yahoo. "We are very happy to partner with Yahoo serving the search results," he said.

3. On Microsoft's Relationships With OEM Partners

Nadella, echoing comments he made at Microsoft's Surface 3 unveiling last week, said he doesn't want to compete with OEM partners.

Mossberg said OEM partners sure seem to think otherwise, and Nadella offered a more detailed explanation of Microsoft's position on making its own hardware.

"The PC ecosystem needs new innovation. It comes in apps, platform and hardware. We’ve got to put all those things together to create growth," Nadella said. "Acer and Dell are already doing this, and Microsoft being in the tablet market doesn't change that," he said.

2. On Why Microsoft Debuted Office For iPad Before Windows Tablets

Mossberg asked Nadella why Microsoft released a tablet version of Office first on Apple's iPad, breaking from its traditional practice of putting Windows first.

Nadella said a touch version of Office for Windows is coming, but Microsoft felt it could get a bigger bang for its buck by targeting the iPad, the most widely used tablet on the market. He also said Microsoft might release future products first on other vendors' platforms.

"The intent here is to make sure our services are available on all devices. There are going to be Windows devices and there are going to be other devices and we have to make sure our services run on all of them," Nadella said.

1. On Whether Microsoft Is Planning To Expand Its Retail Store Footprint

Nadella described Microsoft's retail stores as a great way to show off the company's consumer products, and Mossberg asked Nadella if Microsoft plans to open lots of new stores.

Nadella said Microsoft is planning to expand its retail store footprint to show off more of its consumer products, and noted that Microsoft sells lots of products through Best Buy stores.