The changes at Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) under Satya Nadella have been astounding. The new CEO has changed the culture and direction of the company.

At one time, Microsoft was essentially a bully. It had Windows -- the dominant operating system -- and because of that, it knew that the vast majority of people needed to be within its ecosystem. Yes, there were some outliers using Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) Macs, and even some techie folks running Linux. But for many years, Windows was the OS that powered the computing world.

That changed when iPads running Apple's iOS and tablets powered by Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Android started to become viable alternatives to Windows PCs. The signature Microsoft OS was no longer a requirement, and the company, under previous CEO Steve Ballmer, did not know how to operate in that world. Instead of embracing the new reality, Microsoft doubled down on its old strategy of keeping its software proprietary, rather than going where the customers were.

Nadella changed that. He brought Office to iOS and Android devices, and is even offering a free version of the software -- which does more than you would expect it to. Now he's going a step further, and taking one of the company's signature products -- the Cortana voice assistant -- and bringing it to iOS and Android phones, while also making it easy to bring WIndows files to those devices.

This is like the NBC Peacock getting a recurring role on a CBS sitcom, or the Phillie Phanatic filling in for Mr. Met. It's a bold move that's likely to increase the audience for Cortana and make Windows 10 bigger, while exposing these Microsoft products to a whole new audience.

What is Microsoft doing?
The company is acknowledging that many people who use Windows computers will choose to use iPhones or Android phones. Those customers will still want access to all of their Windows files, Microsoft executive Joe Belfiore wrote in a blog post. Microsoft intends to give it to them with the Windows Phone Companion, a feature built into Windows 10.

The app will work instantly with Windows 10 phones, but will require iPhone and Android users "to follow a few easy steps to get the right apps on your phone to make it work great in conjunction with your Windows 10 PC," Belfiore wrote. Once connected, the phone will be able to see all your Windows files on your Android or iOS phone. This includes:

  • With the OneDrive app set up correctly on your phone, every photo you take on your phone will show up automatically in the Photos app on your Windows 10 PC.
  • With the upcoming version of the Music app, you'll be able to store and access your music from OneDrive not only on your PC, but also play it anywhere for free on your iOS or Android phone.
  • Take a note wherever you are -- notes you write on your PC in OneNote will show up on your phone. And any note you tweak on your phone will get synced to your PC.
  • Work on your Office documents from any of your devices without worrying about moving files around.

The app is an attempt to make it easy for Windows users to seamlessly port their content between PC and phones -- any phone on any OS.

A screenshot of the Windows Companion app. Photo: Microsoft.

Where does Cortana come in?
Along with the Companion app, Microsoft will also be releasing a Cortana app for use on iPhone and Android phones. Belfiore explained it in his blog post.

Part of the power of a personal assistant comes from being available on the go, on the device you carry with you everywhere. And for people who don't have the benefit of a Windows phone, we want to extend the advantage of Cortana in Windows 10. How will this work? Today, we're announcing a Cortana application for Android phones and for iPhones which works as a companion to Cortana on your Windows 10 PC. The 'Phone Companion' app on the PC will help you install the Cortana app from the Google Play or Apple App Store onto your phone so you'll be able to take the intelligence of Cortana with you, wherever you go.

The app won't do quite everything that Cortana does on a PC or WIndows phone, but it will do "most" of them, according to Belfiore. You won't be able to turn the voice assistant on by saying "hey Cortana," or use certain features like toggling settings or opening apps, but that, Belfiore wrote, is because those features require a level of access that an outside app is not granted. 

It will still, however, do quite a lot, and Microsoft appears to be doing everything it can to deliver a full experience on its rivals' devices.

"Everything in Cortana's Notebook will show up across all your devices and any changes you make on one device will be reflected when you use Cortana on any of your other devices," he wrote. "The Cortana companion app will help you complete tasks you begin on your PC wherever you are, on your phone."

These are strong steps
Microsoft is solving a need here. Lots of devoted iPhone and Android users work on a Windows platform at work, or even have personal PCs running the OS. By embracing that and serving those customers, the company not only gets business for its apps, it quite possibly wins those customers over to its phone at a later date. At the very least, Microsoft changes its reputation, and goes from bully to facilitator.