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Microsoft's man in Nokia: he's all business

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Analysis Nokia's decision to poach a Microsoft president as chief executive is as surprising for Nokia watchers as it is challenging for the company he leaves behind.

The embattled cell-phone maker's new CEO is Microsoft president Stephen Elop, an execution man with a track record of safely running well-performing businesses.

On Friday, Elop promised to take Nokia through a period of change and disruption, vowing to respond to disruptive forces in the cell-phone market.

Elop was named CEO on the day mega-analyst Gartner forecast that Android will become the world's second largest smart-phone operating system this year. It's poised to usurp Nokia's Symbian and take over the number one spot after 2014.

But if Nokia was looking for a consumer whiz or a business visionary to lead the company's long-awaited fight back against the iPhone and Android Blitzkrieg, it failed.

Elop is "all business." For the last two years, he focused on business applications at Microsoft, and before that, he handled network infrastructure as chief operating officer at Juniper Networks.

For two years, Elop has pretty much stewarded the already humming Office, SharePoint, CRM, and unified communications businesses at Microsoft.

Office grew by 15 per cent in the last quarter. As for product push, he oversaw the release of one version of Office and SharePoint - versions 2010 - and updates to Dynamics CRM.

Office and Dynamics did move to the browser, but that was thanks to work begun before his time and inspired by Microsoft's white-haired chief software architect Ray Ozzie.

The really hard work on building Office was done by his predecessor Jeff Raikes, a Microsoftie for 26 years who quit to help Bill Gates save humanity.

Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer summed up the loss of Elop Friday in a short, two-paragraph email in which he called Elop a "good steward of the brand and business during his time." Raikes got a far more effusive good-bye from Ballmer.

Microsoft's software steward is walking into a briar patch of connected challenges that must be detangled and dethorned if Nokia is to hold off Android in the next few years.

He must reverse eroding market share and shake up a company that's been slow to respond to the iPhone or Android and still believes its current efforts are a success.

Nokia's management genuinely believes that Ovi is a success despite evidence of unhappy developers making less money than they'd expected due to hacked apps, low customer numbers, and a cheapness on behalf of those who do show up - expecting cheap or free software.

The company's hardware-engineering-centric culture must change too.

The success of the iPhone and Android is more down to the apps and online services integrated with the operating system and device, making them easy, cool and fun to use.

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