Define Irony: Microsoft Places Elop In Charge of Xbox

Microsoft is depending on games such as "Titanfall" to make the new Xbox One a hit.
Microsoft is depending on games such as “Titanfall” to make the new Xbox One a hit.

Late last year, Bloomberg reported that Stephen Elop, then on the short list of candidates to replace Steve Ballmer as Microsoft’s CEO, would eliminate the Xbox if given the company’s helm.

Now Microsoft’s new CEO, Satya Nadella, has appointed Elop to run the Microsoft division that manages the Xbox, along with the Surface tablet, Windows Phone smartphones, and other hardware.

Elop’s appointment means that Julie Larson-Green, who previously headed the Devices and Studios group, will end up as leader of the My Life & Work group, which is buried within Microsoft’s Applications and Services division. (Her new title is chief experience officer, which is a step down in the hierarchy from executive vice president, although TechCrunch explains why that’s apparently not a demotion.)

If Bloomberg’s reporting from 2013 is accurate, Elop wanted to divest Microsoft of Xbox and its other hardware operations in favor of focusing on Office and enterprise software. That would make him an ironic choice to run Microsoft’s hardware division. But there’s also a method to that particular bit of madness: Elop ran Nokia for a few years before returning to the Microsoft fold (he once served as head of Microsoft’s Business Division for a little over two years), which gives him experience in managing a significant hardware operation—something that could prove invaluable as Microsoft attempts to digest Nokia into its corporate structure.

Second, Elop isn’t CEO, and thus can’t do anything radical without Nadella’s say-so. That could prove a good thing for Microsoft, as Elop’s radical moves haven’t necessarily worked out in the past—chucking Nokia’s homegrown operating systems (such as Symbian) in favor of Windows Phone only accelerated the Finnish phone-maker’s loss of market-share. (That decline sparked the longstanding conspiracy theories that Elop as CEO was a mole for Microsoft, weakening Nokia for an eventual takeover.)

As head of Devices and Studios, will Elop advocate for some sort of gaming spinoff? Will he focus on smartphones to the detriment of the Xbox? Or will he just lock down and run the division to the best of his ability? Those are the multi-billion-dollar questions.


Image: Electronic Arts