It took a while, but Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella finally threw a subtle jab at a competitor in an on-stage interview at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech Conference on Monday evening.
After a rather staid Q&A with the biographer Walter Isaacson, Nadella was asked by an attendee what Microsoft’s research group could learn from Google and all the attention it gets for projects such as Google Glass and driverless cars that grow out of its Google X labs and the Advanced Technology and Projects group led by Regina Dugan.
“Look, it’s always good to learn from others who have done a better job of marketing themselves,” Nadella said to a chorus of laughs from the crowd.
His point was subtle but clear: Just because Google gets more press coverage for its long-term projects doesn’t mean it is working on more important or better projects than Microsoft is.
When the laughs subsided, Nadella made a case for the Microsoft Research projects that are leading to big business opportunities inside the company, but which may not get the attention that Google projects do. One beneficiary of successful research work is Microsoft’s in-memory database business, which was built in-house. He said it was a $6 billion business that’s growing fast.
Another is Skype Translate, the futuristic real-time translation service that Microsoft unveiled at Re/code’s Code Conference in May. Nadella called it a “complete outgrowth” of the work done at Microsoft Research.
Still, Nadella said the questioner’s “point is well taken” and that Microsoft can definitely do more to “get more mainstream impact” from its research efforts.
Just don’t expect Microsoft to go about it in the same way Google does, he said.