In a rather unexpected shakeup, Steven Sinofsky – the head of Windows – has departed from Microsoft, effective immediately. As we reported this morning, he is succeeded by Julie Larson-Green (Sinofsky’s second-in-command and head of UX for Windows 7 and Windows 8), and Tami Reller – the Windows CFO – will see her role expand to encompass “the business of Windows.”
The question on everyone’s lips, of course, is whether Sinofsky left of his own accord, or if he was fired. Publicly at least, Microsoft is trying to paint Sinofsky’s departure as amicable: “I am grateful for the many years of work that Steven has contributed to the company,” CEO Steve Ballmer says.
In Sinofsky’s own farewell letter to Microsoft employees, he begins by saying: “After more than 23 years working on a wide range of Microsoft products, I have decided to leave the company to seek new opportunities that build on these experiences.”
Internally, though, there are rumblings that Microsoft’s top brass were just waiting for an opportune time to get rid of Sinofsky – and now that Windows 8 and the Surface tablet are out of the door, it was time for Sinofsky to follow suit. As always with this kind of thing, we only have rumours to go on, but the prevailing opinion seems to be that Sinofsky was an aggressive, divisive force that was hard to work with.
It sounds like he was the ultimate champion of Windows – but at the expense of scuppering the work of other Microsoft departments. Famously, Sinofsky’s Windows worship is rumoured to be the chief reason behind the stillborn Courier tablet. There is also reason to believe that Sinofsky’s antagonistic tunnel vision may have caused the departure of J Allard, Robbie Bach, and other veteran ‘Softies.
There is also the possibility that Ballmer and other members of the board were unhappy with Sinofsky’s handling of Windows 8 – though, of course, Microsoft could never publicly admit that. The jury is still out on whether Windows 8: Jekyll & Hyde Edition will be a hit with consumers or not. As the head of Windows, Sinofsky undoubtedly signed off on the uncomfortable union of Desktop and Metro within Windows 8 – or, worse still, it may have been all his idea. The success of Windows 8 is still far from guaranteed, and an internal admission that Sinofsky did a bad job wouldn’t be good for business.
Or maybe we’re simply reading too much into Sinofsky’s departure. He had been at Microsoft for 23 years, after all. Maybe it was just time for a change – and leaving just after a major product release is certainly the best time to do that. Many analysts had him down as the prime contender for the CEO spot when Ballmer eventually steps down or is ousted – but there’s nothing to say that Sinofsky couldn’t go back to Microsoft, perhaps after a stint at another technology company.
It would be nice to wrap up this article with a positive note, but really, the bulk of Sinofsky’s Microsoft legacy is Windows 8, and how he will be remembered will depend entirely on its success – or failure.