'Microsoft is on the right side of history' says CEO Satya Nadella about Big Tech antitrust talks

Satya Nadella at Build 2018
Satya Nadella at Build 2018 (Image credit: Windows Central)

What you need to know

  • Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella was interviewed by Bloomberg Television.
  • The recent antitrust debates around Big Tech were discussed.
  • Nadella mentioned Microsoft was able to avoid those debates, for the most part, by being on the "right side of history."

Major tech companies have been under increasing scrutiny in recent years, though Microsoft has seemingly walked between the raindrops compared to competitors such as Google and Apple. How has it accomplished this feat? That was the question Emily Chang posed to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella during the pair's Bloomberg Television interview.

Chang mentioned that Microsoft's opponents had told her Microsoft's ability to dodge the crosshairs of lawmakers came down to the company's lobbying capabilities. She then asked for Nadella's response to that claim.

"The fundamental thing that I think is being litigated," Nadella began, before expanding the scope of his comments. "Two sides to it: What technologies, as they scale — what are the unintended consequences for the broader society. [...] The second one is competition. Where is there rigorous competition or lack thereof."

He elaborated on the specifics of both items before circling back to how they intersect with Microsoft. "Frankly, on both those fronts, Microsoft is on the right side of history." Nadella then said that Microsoft invests in privacy, security, AI ethics, internet safety, and related topics.

He also highlighted that competitors are putting a lot of money into beating Microsoft, seemingly insinuating that if Microsoft was attempting to stifle competition, said competitors wouldn't be doing what they're doing.

It's not expected for a CEO to throw their own company under the bus and confirm something like supremely successful lobbying efforts regarding such sensitive topics, so Nadella's comments are par for the course. Still, it's worth watching the full Bloomberg Television interview to see how Nadella says the things he does. The interview touches on topics like the end of Google's and Microsoft's legal ceasefire and, though Nadella says what's expected of him, it's important to note his body language, pauses in speech, and other details about how he gives his responses.

This interview comes fresh off of Microsoft Inspire 2021, wherein the company announced its Windows 365 cloud OS service, which will allow users to put Windows 10 or Windows 11 onto just about any modern device they want.

Robert Carnevale is the News Editor for Windows Central. He's a big fan of Kinect (it lives on in his heart), Sonic the Hedgehog, and the legendary intersection of those two titans, Sonic Free Riders. He is the author of Cold War 2395. Have a useful tip? Send it to robert.carnevale@futurenet.com.

  • MS won't skate by unnoticed for much longer (say 3-5 years before they become targets again), but they do have the advantage of a diversified revenue base. It puts them on a different level than the one trick ponies who are dependent on ads and monetizing user data for the overwhelming majority of their income.
    For the near term, the issues that are vexing Amazon, Google, and Twitter stem from their involvement in overtly partisan politics which Nadela has been careful to avoid. Which isn't to say tbey don't do it to some extent; they just tread lightly. And have a fine tuned lobbying machine. 😉 Unlike his compatriots, Nadella hasn't strayed far from job one for any CEO: making money. As a result he gets to play hardball without drawing too much attention, as Google (for one) is about to discover. They are headed for a very unpleasant antitrust experience. (Hint: choosing to deprecate APKs right now is a very tone deaf move.)
  • "They are headed for a very unpleasant antitrust experience." One can hope.
  • In addition, I think less emphasis on desktop computing over the last decade has made the dominance of Windows on the desktop a non-issue. There are also viable competitors in ChromeOS and macOS. This has effectively made MS less of a target. Furthermore, in all areas they compete, they have very strong rivals (AWS, PlayStation, Google, Apple etc.), so it appears very balanced. Contrast this with Google in online search/ads or Amazon in online shopping where they are essentially monopolies.
  • 85% desktop market share is still plenty dominant; they're just helped by the Chrome and post-PC hype. While they do have strong competitors in enterprise software and services, they are *everywhere* and positioning themselves to grow much bigger. Where Apple is content to sit on their dragon hoard and do very little, MS is using theirs to grow their reach and add subscription upon subscription. Subscriptions are more important than the pundits and politicians realize and where the other giants have at best one, usually single product (except Amazon Prime) MS just launched their third and are using them to reshape entire industries. Microsoft 365 is but the tip of an iceberg. Gamepass is looking to be way more significant ($$$) and Win365 might lock down the enterprise sector. And odds are non-zero MS expands out in the consumer space into video and communications. The opportunity is there: all it'll take is a chunk (30-40%?) of their cash hoard. Moving forward, the day is coming when the activists wake up to a three trillion MS consortium and the handwringing returns. Except this time, MS won't have but one part time lobbyist in DC, like in the 90's.
    That's when it gets interesting.
  • MS no longer has 85% desktop share. Down to 61% in the U.S., 73% globally. Apple is FAR from “sitting on their dragon hoard”. Mac share is up to 27% in the U.S. iPads are growing. iPhones are growing. iTunes is growing. Apple Watch is growing. Apple TV is growing. There are services along with every one of those products. If Apple was “sitting on their dragon hoard” they would not have been the first company to hit $2.5 trillion.
  • What is apple doing with their money besides watching the hoard grow?
    Where's the Apple (smart) TV? Apple Car? VR? Enhanced reality? Cloud services?
    Lots of dabbling and rumors, nothing new actually comes out.
    What new businesses are they building?
    A streaming service with a few dozen shows they need to give away because nobody willingly Pays?
    They kicked the tires on MGM...and it was Amazon that bought it.
    They sat on the Mac line, doing nothing for five years until shamed into doing something.
    It took years to admit their keyboard sucked rivets.
    They're no longer even the second biggest phone company.
    They're paralized by a CEO who thinks and acts like a COO, while opportunities pop up, grow, and pass them by. And even when they notice and try to catch up, they fall short like in home automation, connected speakers, ebooks, and again, video streaming. Their stock is valuable, for now, because of brand loyalty but they are coasting. And as we head into another age of inflation their hoard will be losing its value and the valuation its meaning. They're not using the money to build up the company and expand its reach, lie Amazon, MS, TESLA, SpaceX and the rest of the innovators out there. And sooner or later, that brand loyalty will fade. Apple may not be a one trick pony like Facebook or Twitter but they're not much different. And Facebook at least is trying to build new revenue streams in VR and video phones.
  • "Where's the Apple (smart) TV? Apple Car? VR? Enhanced reality? Cloud services?" Where is the Microsoft (smart) anything? MS car? Mobile OS? Mobile anything? Yeah man, an Android phone is REALLY innovative. So innovative that MS is now giving them away. That must have cost them a LOT of their "cash hoard", right? "They're no longer even the second biggest phone company." True. In the U.S., Apple is the biggest. Nice try. "And even when they notice and try to catch up, they fall short like in home automation, connected speakers, ebooks, and again, video streaming." Whereas MS is the leader in all of these? "What new businesses are they building?" Smart Watches? The market did not exist 5 years ago. Today, Apple is the absolute leader. What new business has MS built in the last 5 years? "They sat on the Mac line, doing nothing for five years until shamed into doing something." And now Mac is 28% share in the U.S.. Windows is down to 61%. Looks to me like MS sat on Windows for 6 years, and was shamed into doing something - ANYTHING - with Windows. Thus, Windows 11. Which looks VERY much like MacOS. AGAIN, no company can be all things to all people in all markets. Apple is doing just fine, in the markets they compete in. MS is doing just fine in THEIR markets. That their markets mostly don't overlap is NOT a coincidence. MS is a business products company. Apple is a consumer products company. However, where they DO compete (Desktop OS/PCs), Apple is gaining and MS is losing.
  • You had to know your comment would trigger an Apple sycophant. Criticism of Apple's faults and fumbles is fair, and you identified many of them. Personally, I'd add a few more. Apple is also a tremendously successful company with a brand loyalty that many corporations would love to have, even when it sometimes borders on mania. How a company handles adversities such as government investigation of monopoly practices, says a lot about its leadership. Microsoft fumbled this about as badly as it could, but then made a spectacular turn around (with the elevation of now President Brad Smith as chief legal officer). It remains to be seen how Apple will handle this type of scrutiny, but the syncophants will never accept even the slightest criticism.
  • "For the near term, the issues that are vexing Amazon, Google, and Twitter stem from their involvement in overtly partisan politics which Nadela has been careful to avoid." It's Facebook that's the worst offender, not these three. By a mile. Also, I'm not sure there's such a great antitrust case against any of these guys except Google. Google openly abuses its power; it's the new Microsoft. Amazon outcompetes other online vendors (not excusing some bad behavior). Apple makes generally superior consumer products and, like camera companies, makes them all interdependent, locking in customers. Twitter and Facebook benefitted from the network effect - there's always going to be only a handful because there's no incentive to join a small social network.
  • I dunno, pretty sure the Dark Ages are where it's at.
  • American politicians are very cheap there is a recent leaked footage of a lobbyist for ExxonMobil naming a bunch of politicians they bought off and how they say there for one thing but behind the door they know that they're never going to pass bills they don't want. So they can act like they care about people while serving their own greedy interest. Typical capitalist stuff
  • Congressional reps *are* cheap to buy. Historically, around $30K.
    A business would have to be stupid or angelic to pass up a bargain like that.
    Senators are more expensive but they need to buy less of them.
    The problem is that the definition of an honest politician is the one that stays bought and few are.
  • "Typical capitalist stuff" Last time I checked, all real democracies were "capitalist" economies. Denmark, Sweden, Australia, all of them.
  • Nadella’s assertion that Microsoft is on the right side of history, with respect to the current regulatory and anti-trust challenges, sound about right. Microsoft, as I understand matters is not getting a pass because they have, as characterized in the article, “supremely successful lobbying efforts.” That characterization seems to be right out of Microsoft’s competitors talking points. I have watched most of the hearings where Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and Twitter have been before Congress. My take away, based on lines of questioning and speeches from those hearings is Microsoft isn’t the only entity with “supremely successful lobbying.” Recently, I have started to hear certain highly partisan congressional members attack Microsoft for not being hauled before congressional committees. If you can’t win on the merits, you fight in the mud. Nadella noted two issues that are driving this current environment: the unintended social consequences from technology at scale and anti-competitive behaviors. The range of issues here are numerous and breathtaking in scale and scope, and touch nearly every aspect of modern life. This is serious stuff. We should note, for comparison’s sake, that Microsoft’s anti-trust lawsuit was fundamentally different than the current state of affairs. Microsoft got sued for bundling one product, Internet Explorer, with Windows and then using that dominance in an attempt to eliminate all other browser competitors. They got out over their skis just enough and ended up getting their head handed to them. That claim that IE needed to integrated into the OS was dumb and went far in getting them convicted. The current crop of investigations and lawsuits span items like search, mobile search, advertising, app store policies, privacy, economic models, censorship, surveillance, selling personal data, and mucking around with elections to name but a few issues. The reason Microsoft hasn’t been hauled before Congress isn’t because of “supremely successful lobbying efforts,” rather it is because they haven’t engaged in these anti-trust and anti-competitive behaviors. I will cite some examples. In the Cloud, Microsoft has the second largest market share behind Amazon with Google doing its best to join them. This is a dog fight and will continue to be for the foreseeable future as evidenced by Amazon getting a judge to agree to allow their JEDI lawsuit to proceed based on some trumped up claims. Anti-trust is not an issue here yet but it sure could be in the future. As for the social compact of trusting them with your entire digital life I am picking one out of these three, it isn't even close. In mobile devices Google and Apple control about 99% of app sales and subsequent in app purchases; such market power has allowed them to charge mob like fees and if you don’t think so go read the most recent anti-trust lawsuit brought against Google. It is breath taking. If I was Tim Cook I would be really worried about this one. Microsoft’s new app store model appearing at this time is no accident. Somewhat related is Amazon demanding and getting companies to sell them options to purchase significant shares of them if they want access to Amazon’s Marketplace. Nothing to see here, just move along. Microsoft is dominant in desktop operating sales, but it is clear this leadership no longer lends itself to monopoly abuses. What is a problem is how Google ties app store access to the only version of Android that matters: the one that comes with all the draconian Google app bundling requirements. Microsoft is not engaged in censorship; that bit of fun is owned lock, stock, and barrel by Google, Facebook, and Twitter. As for the argument that these companies are private and because of that can regulate speech however they want – really? I think in due time that history is going to show two things, maybe more. These companies abused the Section 230 carveout, that they were immune from lawsuits that arose from unbridled free speech that trafficked over their platforms. They used this protection and their monopoly position to pervert that intent to shut down free flowing speech. The second one, is because of this abuse first amendment protections will be extended to cover the modern public square these monopolies are increasingly abusing. The justifications for this are immaterial, speech, except for very specific exceptions, is protected by the Bill of Rights and culture; it is either free or it is censored - this is like being a little bit pregnant. Then there is the matter of how Google and Facebook monopolize digital ad infrastructure and spending. I could not find a recent number but in 2018 their combined market share was 73%. I can’t imagine this has diminished over the last three years. In fact, these two are actively being investigated by the DOJ, states attorney generals, and other federal agencies. That Microsoft is not embroiled here has exactly zero to do with lobbying. With these examples in mind, I think Nadella is speaking from a rational and factual place when he says Microsoft at this time is on the right side of history. His intelligence, ethics, philosophical temperament, and razor sharp competitiveness has transformed Microsoft from a fading giant into something remarkable. History too will remember this man as the most important computing visionary since Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.
  • I'm not reading this essay for two reasons: A) it's just too long, and B) your comments get the facts wrong from your very first paragraph. The assertation that Microsoft is good at lobbying was from its competitors, verbatim. It's stated right there in the second paragraph. It's not this article's viewpoint; this article is just reporting what was said. The second reference to lobbying is simply a reminder of what was mentioned earlier.
  • Satya Nadella is a nice guy but I think it's time for a new CEO.
  • Based on what? Certainly not the MS stock price. MS is in better financial shape now than at any time in their history. And THAT is the job of a CEO.
  • Great, he just doomed Microsoft by saying that, just like all political leaders who claimed history was on their side.
  • I remember well Windows Phone!