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Microsoft wants to make Windows 11 more flexible and open

We’ve got a special episode of Decoder today — I’m talking to Satya Nadella, the CEO and chairman of Microsoft. Satya’s always been one of my favorite tech execs to talk to, and Microsoft has some big news for us to discuss: it announced Windows 11 yesterday, which comes with an all-new design, a bunch of new features, and the ability to run Android apps.

That’s all wrapped up in some big changes to how apps are distributed on Windows: Microsoft is opening up the Windows app store, allowing developers to put more kinds of apps in the store, and it’s allowing developers to bypass the fees in the store if they want to use their own payment systems.

If you’ve been listening to Decoder, you know there’s a lot of controversy about Apple’s App Store fees and the control it has over developers on its platforms. There are lawsuits, there are bills in Congress, and there are unhappy Europeans. Nadella and Microsoft are explicitly positioning Windows as the opposite, saying it’s more open and that the goal of Windows is to allow other companies to build big businesses and platforms of their own without Microsoft getting in the way.

If you think that sounds like a pretty intense role reversal for Apple and Microsoft, well, you’re not wrong. Twenty years ago, Microsoft was facing down regulators while the Mac was the more open platform. But I was curious how Nadella felt about it, how he thinks about Windows as a platform and what Microsoft’s responsibilities are, and how he thinks the various antitrust bills in Congress will affect Microsoft’s plans for the future. And I definitely wanted to know about the decision to run Android apps on Windows.

A couple notes: Satya talks about Azure and “the edge” a lot. Azure is one of Microsoft’s cloud computing platforms that competes with Amazon’s AWS and one of its biggest and most important lines of business. And if cloud computing is about computers far away from you in data centers, the edge is about the computers closest to you — like Windows PCs.

Nadella also mentions “aggregators” in the context of the Windows store. He’s talking about places in the user interface where lots of people show up and are directed to the other apps and services they need. This is a reference to Ben Thompson’s aggregation theory, which actually comes up on Decoder all the time.

Other things you’ll hear him say:

  • NUI, which stands for natural user interface, like voice and gestures
  • POSIX, which is a set of operating system standards
  • WSL, which is the part of Windows that lets you run Linux
  • PWAs, which are progressive web apps
  • UWPs, which are Universal Windows Platform apps
  • HoloLens, which is Microsoft’s augmented reality headset
  • Pat, who is Pat Gelsinger, CEO of Intel

This one’s deep. I think you’re going to like it.

The following transcript has been edited for clarity.

Microsoft announced Windows 11 today. There is a lot to talk about, but I want to start with some personal news, as they say. You only recently became the chairman as well as the CEO of Microsoft. What does that actually mean to be the chairman?

The reality is — as you know — when it comes to corporate governance in the United States at least, it’s really the lead independent director who has full authority over all of the people who are part of the management, including me and my compensation and my performan.

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