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Stephen Elop as UC Guru ... Think Again

Among the commentators is Rich Tehrani, who argues that Elop, until now COO of Juniper Networks, is an appropriate choice to lead the Microsoft Business Division because of his experience on the front line against Cisco:

I would say the biggest reason the company reached outside for new blood is because there needs to be someone who can take on Cisco more effectively. Let's face it...Unified Communications is set to be a huge growth area for Microsoft over the next five years and who better to lead this push than someone who slugs it out with the networking leader on a daily basis?

It's an interesting point. Rich is referring to Microsoft's Unified Communications Group which reports into Raikes and will soon be Elop's responsibility. The UCG is in charge of Office Communications Server, the platform behind those rather perplexing "VoIP As You Are" ads and Microsoft's latest hopes to become a contender in the business communications space. This, industry watchers and insiders say, has put Microsoft on a collision course with Cisco, which wants the unified communications crown for its own.

But, as much as I respect Rich's opinions, I can't agree with him on this particular point. Yes, Elop's tenure at Juniper has earned him experience working for one of Cisco's direct competitors. But he was only at the company for a year. Microsoft, if it had really been seeking an executive from the communications or networking industry, could have had its pick of any number of far more seasoned Cisco combatants.

Reading Elop's background it seems pretty clear to me that Microsoft brought him in because of his experience in and understanding of the business application software market. The man was CIO, sales executive, and finally CEO of Macromedia for more than seven years, both before and briefly after its sale to Adobe. Prior to that he worked for Lotus Development Corp., which is now owned by Microsoft's archrival IBM. Microsoft seems to have cherry picked a young, energetic, and accomplished executive with plenty of experience working with some of Microsoft's chief adversaries in the software industry. But I don't think Stephen Elop was hired to stomp about Redmond as Microsoft's unified communications David against Cisco's fearsome Goliath.