Microsoft’s quiet rise vaults it ahead of Apple and Amazon

November 1, 2021, 11:07 PM UTC

The quietest tech giant just pulled off a coup d’état.

Microsoft on Friday snatched the world’s most valuable company crown from Apple. Microsoft’s market capitalization is currently at $2.47 trillion, a smidge ahead of Apple’s $2.46 trillion. The two have been vying for the top spot for years, with Microsoft nudging ahead for the gold medal a few times previously in 2010, 2018, and 2020.

While supply chain issues and iPhone production hiccups hurt Apple during its recent quarter, Microsoft has ridden the pandemic-prompted shift to remote work to great success. Microsoft’s cloud business, Azure, is absolutely on fire—which leads us to the next usurpation.

While many people correctly observe that Amazon has the biggest cloud computing footprint of any tech giant—it created the category and continues to dominate the market share when it comes to providing infrastructure for others—they may not realize that Microsoft actually makes more revenue on its cloud business. Microsoft’s so-called intelligent cloud unit, which includes Azure, raked in $17 billion in sales in the most recent quarter compared to Amazon Web Service’s $16 billion. Microsoft’s top line figure is padded with data center and database software sales, so the numbers aren’t directly comparable, but it is surprisingly dominant.

Compared to its often controversy and scandal-ridden peers—Facebook, Amazon, Alphabet, and even Apple are lately tussle prone, to put it mildly—Microsoft is the very picture of serenity. The software giant executes quarter after quarter, led by Satya Nadella, one of the world’s most underrated CEOs. The relative calm belies Microsoft’s ambition; the corporation wants to win, and it’s working.

This evening on the sidelines of the Web Summit tech conference in Lisbon, I asked Peggy Johnson, the chief executive of augmented reality startup Magic Leap, how Microsoft has managed to be so successful. Johnson left her post as exec VP of business development at Microsoft last year, after being recruited by Nadella from Qualcomm in 2014. She attributed Microsoft’s rise to Nadella’s steady hand at the wheel.

“I remember interviewing with Satya and he said, ‘I’m going to change the culture of the company.’ I remember thinking, ‘Good luck.’ But by the end of my interview with him, he was telling me how he was going to do it—and I was like, I think you can do it!” she told me.

The key to the change? Nadella “being a listener and a learner,” Johnson said. Plus, consistent messaging that culture reform was his priority No. 1. “Where I think an outsider might have pointed out the product problems”—like failed attempts at mp3 devices and mobile phones and other stumbles—”those eventually got fixed because he fixed the culture.”

Don’t be fooled by Microsoft’s equanimity; never underestimate the quiet ones.

Robert Hackett

Correction (11/2/21) 1:30 p.m. ET: A previous version of this article misstated Amazon Web Service’s most recent quarterly revenues. AWS reported $16 billion during the period. The story has also been updated to more accurately reflect Microsoft’s Azure cloud revenues. While the company does not break out earnings for Azure, it reported $17 billion in revenue for its “intelligent cloud” unit, which combines Azure and certain data center software sales.


Dude, you’re getting out of debt. On Monday, PC-maker Dell spun out its 81% stake in cloud computing software giant VMware, which is now trading at a $64 billion public valuation on the stock market. The deal will help Dell pay down a massive load of debt it took on to fund the company’s transitioned from strictly selling computers to consumers to becoming a data center gear supplier. Michael Dell turned his nearly $4 billion interest in his namesake company, which he took private with help from private equity firm Silverlake Partners eight years ago, into a 10X return.

Have you tried turning on and off again? The child-beloved Minecraft video game lookalike Roblox came back online this weekend after suffering a nearly three-day outage that started on Oct. 28. Gamers suspected the crash might have been caused by a Halloween promotion in which Chipotle gave away $1 million in free “booritos.” Roblox CEO David Baszucki offered a different explanation, blaming “overwhelmed” infrastructure “prompted by a subtle bug in our backend service communications while under heavy load.” Sounds like the free Mexican food didn’t help.

Inflation nation. Billionaire tech investor Peter Thiel says that the recent all-time high price of Bitcoin indicates that inflation is here to stay. "What it is telling us is that we are having a crisis moment" that the Federal Reserve is ignoring, Thiel said at the recent convening of the second National Conservatism Conference. Meanwhile, Digital Currency Group, a sprawling crypto conglomerate, just sold $700 million worth of shares to two Softbank funds at a $10 billion private valuation, demonstrating the crypto's staying power.

That's so Meta. More on the media giant formerly known as Facebook. The Wall Street Journal interviewed 12 experts about how to fix social media. Other publications are, meanwhile, showing that the idea of the metaverse is nothing new—there were early failures and, reality check for Mark Zuckerberg, plenty of video games arguably already got there first. Facebook—er, Meta (this rebrand is going to take a while to warm up to)—doesn't care; as a 2018 memo from an Oculus executive, dredged up by CNBC, declared back then, "The metaverse is ours to lose."


As today's column notes up top, so much power resides in the cloud. The world's biggest tech giants have extensive cloud computing arms. Europe is trying to come from behind with a cloud moonshot of its own—Gaia-X—that will take on U.S.-based titans. But the project is a shambles, according to Politico.

From the article:

Just over a year ago, senior French and German ministers trumpeted the birth of Gaia-X — a cloud data project that they promised would help Europe regain its "digital sovereignty" in the face of dominant foreign players like Amazon and Google.

Gaia-X would be a key tool for allowing Europeans to "assert ourselves in the world," German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said at the June 2020 unveiling, flanked by French counterpart Bruno Le Maire.

Yet sixteen months later, Gaia-X is turning into a cautionary tale about the EU's tech ambitions, and how internal divisions can end up throttling high-profile projects even if they have the backing of the bloc's most powerful countries.

In conversations with POLITICO, more than a dozen industry and government officials involved with the work of Gaia-X said the project was struggling to get off the ground amid infighting between corporate members, disagreement over its overall aims and a bloated bureaucratic structure that is delaying decisions. One industry official closely involved in the work of Gaia-X called it a "mess."


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Having raised just $25 million, crypto conglomerate Digital Currency Group gets a $10 billion valuation by Lucinda Shen

Burger King offers free crypto, putting Bitcoin, Dogecoin, and Ethereum on the menu by Chris Morris

It’s not just Bitcoin and Shiba Inu: crypto’s amazing run in 4 charts by Sophie Mellor and Nicolas Rapp

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World leaders launch two-week blitz, brokering a deal to avoid climate catastrophe by Katherine Dunn


Got an issue? Here's a tissue. Apple may have slipped from its throne as the world’s most-valuable public company, but no one can deny people’s extreme affinity for the brand. The tech colossus is known for groundbreaking design and world-changing products that extends beyond hardware like the iPhone. Take, for instance, the company’s current most back-ordered product…an expensive “polishing cloth.”

That’s right: A 6.3-by-6.3- inch swatch for ridding screens of smudges is selling like hotcakes, despite a big price mark-up compared to competitors. As Walter Gonzalez, president and founder of Goja, maker of a rival screen wipe called MagicFiber which retails for $9 for a pack of six on Amazon, told the New York Times, “You have to give them credit for the chutzpah to charge $19.”

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