Some corporate actions are fairly transparent, such as Coach buying Kate Spade last week, a clear nod to the rise of the millennial consumer. Others are so baroque as to be almost impenetrable. The appointment of Satya Nadella as chief executive of Microsoft in February 2014 led to Microsoft becoming a cloud-computing company, but what that really means is hard to say.

Under Nadella, a variety of Microsoft (ticker: MSFT)…