Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella reveals he has just a little bit of Oracle envy

Microsoft has an unfortunate history of inventing amazing new technologies and then getting left in the dust. Microsoft had smartphones before Apple, and e-readers before Amazon, but never made a dent with either.

So when Bloomberg’s Emily Chang and Dina Bass asked current Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella which product he wishes the company had developed first, he had a somewhat surprising answer: The relational database, a key element of most software, which Oracle first brought to market in 1979.

It’s a counterintuitive answer — as Bloomberg notes, one might have expected Nadella to say that he was most envious of Google search, or the iPhone, given that Microsoft Bing is a second-place player in search and the Microsoft Windows phone operating system was largely a non-starter.

And yet, Nadella’s answer is a good one.

The relational database turned Oracle from a tiny startup into a multinational superpower. Almost every piece of software ever written needs some kind of database behind it, and Oracle quickly established its position as the leading provider.

Using the database as its flagship product, Oracle grew into other applications, establishing an empire of business software and developer technologies. Today, Oracle is the sixth-most valuable tech company, behind Facebook and Microsoft itself, with a market cap of about $US200 billion.

Larry EllisonKimberly White/Getty ImagesOracle founder Larry Ellison

Microsoft has its own relational database software: SQL Server 2017, the latest edition of Microsoft’s database software released in September. It’s a major revenue driver for Microsoft, to be sure.

Still, as Nadella notes, if Microsoft had been first to market with the relational database, perhaps the company would enjoy an even more secure position today. And, perhaps, competitors like Oracle wouldn’t have gotten this big if Microsoft had beaten them to the punch.

It’s no surprise that Nadella would have this perspective, as Bloomberg notes, given that Nadella’s last gig before being named CEO was running Microsoft’s cloud and databases businesses.

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