Investors are still digesting Tuesday afternoon's Q4 2014 earnings report from Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT ) , even as its stock inches even closer to a 52-week high of $45.71 a share. New CEO Satya Nadella shared some good news, and some not-so-good news, as Microsoft finished up its fiscal year. And what a year it was, with the assimilation of Nokia's devices unit, a huge workforce reduction, and the aforementioned new leader, to name but a few changes.
As for its recently completed earnings call, on the upside, Microsoft had a great quarter generating considerably more revenue than last year, outpacing analyst estimates along the way. Earnings were solid, though to no one's surprise, the Nokia deal tempered final results a bit. Great news in cloud sales, Windows OEM Pro, and another million plus Office 365 subscribers, all made for a decent quarter. But it was Nadella's plans for one of Microsoft's signature products that may leave the most lasting impression.
A few specs
On the upside, Microsoft's continued mobile-first, cloud-first efforts continue to bear fruit. Like others in the sector working furiously to become the standard for cloud technologies, Microsoft is trying to become the market leader. In its fiscal Q4, Microsoft's cloud revenues jumped a whopping 147% over the last year and is on pace to generate $4.4 billion in annual revenues.
But Microsoft is hardly alone in its efforts to win the cloud technologies and services race. Big hitters including Oracle (NYSE: ORCL ) are also changing their core business to cutting-edge markets like cloud and big data. Oracle left little doubt as to what it wants investors to focus on, kicking off last months earnings release with, "Oracle Becomes the Second Largest Cloud SaaS Company in the World."
Now, determining who is really leading the race for cloud supremacy isn't quite so cut-and-dry as Oracle makes it sound. According to Oracle's release , it's "approaching" $2 billion in annual cloud subscription revenues. Of course, that pales in comparison to Microsoft's $4.4 billion run-rate, and doesn't measure up to another industry giant, IBM, and its $2.8 billion in annual cloud sales.
Microsoft's cloud platform, Azure, continues to gain momentum, and Office 365 is the epitome of where cloud revenues will come from going forward. Cloud hosting is already a commodity, but services like Office 365 and Oracle's suite of cloud-based Software-as-a-Service, Platform-as-a-Service, and similar solutions, will determine success in the cloud.
News that Bing and the former Nokia unit could be profitable by 2016 -- Nokia shaved $0.08 per share in earnings from Microsoft's Q4 -- also struck a nice chord. Whether Nadella can deliver on these two statements is another matter, but Bing's 40% jump in ad revenue is a nice start.
The other news
Nadella has made it clear that Microsoft's future won't be defined by hardware. But that doesn't mean there aren't possibilities in the sector. That's one reason why Nadella's confirmation that Microsoft will merge all its disparate Windows versions into one platform is so intriguing. This one move could have a major impact on its device unit and overall efficiency, among other benefits.
As Nadella described it, a common Windows architecture will mean, "one OS that covers all screen sizes." That may seem like a no-brainer, and rumors of something akin to Nadella's announcement have circulated for a while, but there's no denying the implications of such a platform.
Windows 9, rumored to be ready for release sometime next year, may very well be the all-in-one platform Nadella promised.
Final Foolish thoughts
From strictly an efficiency perspective, one Windows platform means one team of developers, rather than multiple teams, all working on disparate systems, as was the case under former CEO Steve Ballmer. For developers, Nadella's news is revolutionary and could prove to be a godsend. Can you imagine a game developer, for example, making a Windows-compatible app that can be downloaded and used on a tablet, desktop, phone, and a laptop? Oh, and let's not forget an Xbox console.
It's hard to find someone who doesn't have multiple devices nowadays, be that a phone and desktop, or maybe a laptop, tablet, or gaming console thrown in for good measure. A unified Windows platform can sync all those devices, essentially making the whole greater than the sum of its parts. In today's multi-device, on-the-go world, a consolidated OS will be a game-changer for Microsoft.
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