Microsoft earnings: Nadella has a message for Wall Street

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella
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The biggest news coming from Microsoft's earnings after the bell on Thursday won't necessarily be any number that's reported.

Instead investors are most looking forward to hearing what the software giant's CEO Satya Nadella will say on the earnings conference call. It will be the first earnings call since Nadella took the helm at Microsoft and it's also the first time the company's CEO has been on an earnings call in a very long time.

"This is actually a huge deal. Steve Ballmer was never on the call during his entire reign," said Norman Young, a senior equity analyst at Morningstar. "It's almost like he is stepping up the accountability, it's an important tone to set for investors."

Nadella's decision to join the call is overall a positive sign that the company is moving in the right direction, said Daniel Ives, an analyst at FBR.

"Just him being on the call, just him speaking to Wall Street—as well as his employees—it's a huge step forward in terms of transparency," Ives said. "It gives investors a better sense of what to expect."

Microsoft's management has been working very hard to manage expectations and keep any surprises to a minimum while the company is going through this transition period so that the earnings stream becomes more predictable, said Kirk Materne, an analyst at Evercore.

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Analysts are largely expecting Microsoft to report a seasonally weak quarter. The company is expected to post earnings of 63 cents per share on revenue of $20.39 billion, according to a Thomson Reuters survey of analysts.

Watching Windows

Investors will be listening on the call to see what Nadella says about Microsoft's key areas of business including its Windows franchise, its cloud business and the company's mobile strategy. But the CEO will be given a "get out of jail free card" when it comes to next quarter guidance because investors expect it to take some time for Nadella to fully implement his new strategies, Ives said.

"We're not expecting any home runs from the quarter," Ives, who has a 'market perform' rating on the stock with a price target of $40, said. "The biggest surprise would be if there was an uptick in the Windows franchise."

The deteriorating PC market has weighed heavily on Microsoft's Windows business. But recent data from IDC shows that PC shipments are moderating, which means declining Windows sales may have finally hit a bottom.

"There's starting to be some light at the end of the tunnel and the light doesn't seem like a train anymore (now)," Ives said. "The fundamentals are definitely more positive for Microsoft in terms of the direction they are going."

As for Azure, Microsoft's cloud business, analysts expect to see continued strong growth despite competition from companies such as Google and Amazon. The company's cloud-computing unit has been experiencing triple digit growth year over year in recent quarters and investors will be looking for the same kind of growth when it reports Thursday.

Besides its cloud business, mobile is another key component of Nadella's strategy and investors are anxious to see what he has up his sleeve. Under Nadella, Microsoft already has rolled out its Office for iPad and made Windows free for some mobile devices, which show the company is taking a new approach to mobile.

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Still, there's the lingering question of just what the company plans to do with its acquisition of Nokia.

"The elephant in the room continues to be Nokia. It's not Nadella's brainchild, but he's inheriting it," Ives said. "It's like they are trying to turn the Cleveland Browns of mobile into a playoff team."

Nokia is an acquisition the company had to make because at the time Nokia was making 90 percent Windows phones, Young said. But it is going to be a big anchor on profitability because it's a hardware business, he added.

With the Nokia deal expected to close Friday, it's unlikely Nadella will share too much on what the company's plans are with the smartphone maker, but Young said that going forward hardware probably won't be as much as a focus as it was under Ballmer.

Read More Nokia opens a new chapter as it closes Microsoft deal

"This was an acquisition that was made under the last CEO. Now they are becoming slightly more device agnostic," Young said. "Long term the hardware business is not good for them, but they kind of need to prop it up for awhile."

By CNBC's Cadie Thompson. Follow her on Twitter @CadieThompson.