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Steve Ballmer to Microsoft: Windows Phones Should Run Android Apps

At Microsoft’s annual general meeting yesterday, former CEO Steve Ballmer made his opinions on the company’s current course crystal clear. For one thing, he thinks Microsoft’s universal Windows app strategy is not destined to succeed. For another, the company needs to focus more on whether Windows Phone handsets can run Android apps, he said.

Ballmer also said that the company should disclose profit margins and sales for its cloud and hardware businesses. “It’s sort of a key metric — if they talk about it as key to the company, they should report it,” Ballmer told reporters.

Whither Astoria?

Ballmer, who is the company’s biggest individual shareholder, led the purchase of Nokia’s handset business two years ago, but since then Microsoft’s mobile business has not flourished. Windows Phone continues to hold single-digit market share, and developers are showing minimal interest in building apps for the platform.

Earlier this year, in an initiative called Project Astoria, Microsoft created software bridges to better enable iOS and Android developers to port their apps to Windows 10 and Windows 10 Mobile. Microsoft also announced universal apps for Windows 10 over a year ago, shortly after Satya Nadella took over from Ballmer. Previously the company planned to release Astoria bridge code in a public beta by the fall of 2015. But Astoria only worked on Windows 10 mobile devices.

The Astoria initiative is seen by many as comatose, even though Microsoft has only officially said that it is still in the process of developing Astoria. But recent builds of Windows 10 Mobile have dropped the Android subsystem, signalling that Astoria is most likely being cast aside.

Where Are the Developers?

Is abandoning Astoria a mistake? Apparently, Ballmer thinks so. During the Microsoft meeting, Nadella was asked why there are so few key apps for Windows Phone. Nadella said that the company was reaching out to Windows developers through its universal apps program, which lets them build apps that work across PCs and mobile devices. Ballmer responded to Nadella’s answer by saying, “That won’t work,” according to Bloomberg. Ballmer added that Microsoft instead has to allow Android apps to run on Windows Phone.

In knocking Microsoft for how it reports sales and profit margins for its cloud and hardware business, Ballmer castigated Microsoft’s run-rate reporting — a yearly rate of sales based on a single snapshot — for its cloud business. “They should report the revenue, not the run rate,” he said.

In the spring, Microsoft said that it would end its fiscal year with a commercial cloud gross margin of 44 percent. However, the company reports revenue and margin for some of its cloud businesses, but not a total sales number for the entire segment.

Ballmer told reporters that Microsoft should report margins since the company’s cloud services and hardware revenue is so low relative to Microsoft’s traditional software business.

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