Microsoft Shows It Can Think Differently, Adds Dropbox to Office for iOS

Microsoft demonstrated that under CEO Satya Nadella, the company can think differently than it has in the past. Not only has Big Redmond released Office for iOS, on Tuesday the company announced with Dropbox that it was adding support for Dropbox to those iOS apps, but that it was doing so because that's what customers wanted.

Office for iPad with Dropbox

Access Dropbox Within Office for iOS Apps

Microsoft runs its own cloud storage system called One Drive, the kind of name we might normally expect from the company headquartered at One Microsoft Way. In the past, Microsoft has consistently tried to use the Windows and Office hegemony to bludgeon its way into other markets, and forcing Office for iOS customers to use One Drive would be par for the course.

Take Office itself. Under former CEO Steve Ballmer, Microsoft tried to use that as a bludgeon to get customers to go with Microsoft Surface, the company's iPad competitor (or would-be competitor, whatevs). Not only did that not work, it gave Apple and Microsoft's various Office cloners time to gain a foothold in the market.

Big Redmond addressed that problem, and Office for iOS has been well received. The need to use One Drive, however, was a problem for many Apple customers who had already come to rely on Dropbox to move files onto and off of their iOS devices. But Microsoft has fixed that, too, demonstrating a pragmatic practicality we've seldom seen from the company.

"Access to Dropbox content popped as one of the very first [Office for iPad] requests that customers had," Kirk Koenigsbauer, head of Microsoft’s Office Engineering team, told The Verge. "They want access to where their content is. We’re doing it to make sure customers have a great experience."

All of that is true, but before Satya Nadella the wants and needs of Microsoft's customers have always played a very distant second fiddle to the goals and desires of Microsoft itself. If this isn't a fluke—and I don't think it is—we might be witnessing the early stages of Microsoft becoming a more nimble competitor ready to capitalize on market opportunities. That would be a dramatic shift from the Microsoft that tried (and used to succeed at) forcing the changes it wanted on the marketplace.

The reality is that Microsoft has to make these kinds of changes if it wants to survive. The "One Microsoft Way" approach to business ran its course under first Bill Gates and then Steve Ballmer. The proof of that is the abject failure of Windows Phone, Surface, and even Windows 8.

Since he took over from the retired Mr. Ballmer in 2013, I have been hopeful that Satya Nadella could bring the kind of systemic changes to Microsoft that could turn the tech giant back into a competitive force. The jury's still out on whether he can, but we're seeing more and more little signs that he's trying, and I like it.