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Originally published Monday, April 28, 2014 at 6:16 PM

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Back as a top Microsoft exec, Elop defends decisions at Nokia

Stephen Elop, the exec who moved from Microsoft to Nokia and back again, answered questions in an “Ask Me Anything” blog session, discussing the Nokia brand, Trojan horses, “burning platforms” and other issues.

Seattle Times technology reporter

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On his first day as head of Microsoft’s Devices group, former Nokia CEO Stephen Elop talked about the eventual rebranding of Nokia devices, defended his use of Android on a line of Nokia phones, and provided hints of what might be coming.

He did so Monday during an “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) session on Nokia’s Conversations blog.

Microsoft’s $7.5 billion deal for Nokia’s handset business closed Friday, bringing with it Elop’s return to Microsoft, where he had headed the division that included Office from 2008 to 2010.

Now, he is executive vice president of Microsoft Devices Group, which includes Lumia smartphones and tablets, Nokia mobile and feature phones, Xbox hardware, Surface, Perceptive Pixel large touch-screens, and mice and keyboards.

The deal’s wrapup also brought uncertainty over issues including whether the Nokia brand will continue to be used for handsets.

The Finnish company retains the brand, though Microsoft has licensed the brand for 10 years for Nokia’s basic mobile phones.

Microsoft has also licensed the Nokia brand “for the purpose of marketing Nokia-branded smart devices for a limited time,” a Microsoft spokeswoman said earlier.

During his AMA, Elop clarified that: “The Nokia brand is available to Microsoft to use for its mobile phones products for a period of time, but Nokia as a brand will not be used for long going forward for smartphones. Work is under way to select the go-forward smartphone brand.”

Several months after he moved from Microsoft in 2010 to become Nokia CEO, Elop announced a partnership between Nokia and Microsoft in which Windows Phone would become Nokia’s primary smartphone operating system.

While the move almost single-handedly boosted Windows Phone’s global market share, that share remained tiny in the face of competition from Apple, and from Samsung and other makers of Android phones.

And the move did not help stem Nokia’s market-share decline.

The Finnish phone-maker reported in January that sales in its handset division in 2013 fell 29 percent from the year before. (The company is to report its fiscal first-quarter earnings Tuesday.)

Elop on Monday denied he was a “Trojan horse” for Microsoft while at Nokia, which some had accused him of being.

“I have only ever worked on behalf of and for the benefit of Nokia shareholders while at Nokia,” he said in the AMA. “Additionally, all fundamental business and strategy decisions were made with the support and approval of the Nokia board of directors, of which I was a member.”

He also defended Nokia’s decision to introduce this year its first line of Android-based phones. That Nokia X line, while running a variant of Android, links to Microsoft’s and Nokia’s services, not Google’s.

Elop said that when Nokia made the decision in 2011 to put all its eggs in the Windows Phone basket, it did so because it didn’t want to put itself on a “collision course” with Samsung, which had established “a head of steam around Android. That was the right decision, as we have seen virtually all other [phone-makers] from those days pushed to the side.”

Nokia’s decision this year to use Android was made to “attack a specific market opportunity” and should benefit both Microsoft and the Lumia line, he said.

Elop also defended his “burning platform” memo — an internal Nokia memo he wrote in 2011, in which he likened the company to a man on a burning oil platform, facing either jumping or being consumed by flames.

He also defended the decision to end Nokia’s in-house MeeGo and Symbian operating systems.

The MeeGo effort, he said, was “significantly delayed and did not have the promise of a broad enough portfolio soon enough,” while Symbian could not be brought to a competitive level with the iPhone.

The “burning platform” memo, meanwhile, “galvanized the mindset of thousands of employees with the recognition that we faced a critical situation,” Elop said. “We brought urgency into the organization and within six months we produced our first two Windows Phone devices. This was faster than we had ever gone before and marked the beginning of our cultural change.”

Nokia later laid off about 20,000 workers worldwide as part of its restructuring.

Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or On Twitter @janettu.

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