Former Microsoft Exec Has Amazing Things to Say About Apple’s WWDC Keynote

Apple's WWDC 2017 Announcement

Steven Sinofsky was a Microsoft executive, president of the Windows Division, from mid 2009 to late 2012. He was known for his strong advocacy of Windows everywhere and was responsible for Windows 7 and 8. Today, he’s a board member at Andreessen Horowitz.

Steven SInofsky.
Steven Sinofsky celebrating Windows 7 at Microsoft. Image credit: Wikipedia.

One would expect Mr. Sinofsky to have a particularly Microsoftian state of mind with regard to Apple’s products and philosophy. But that was hardly in evidence when he penned a recent missive. It’s the Particle Debris article of the week: “WWDC 2017 — Some Thoughts.” Sinofsky opens with…

I have attended WWDC for many years, sometimes as a partner (working on Office), sometimes as competitors (working on Windows), and sometimes just as an interested developer (grad school). There are always a range of emotions coming out of the event.

It gets better.

Amazingly, the tone of the article couldn’t be more enthusiastic about Apple’s keynote. It also surfaced evidence of, perhaps, a submerged enthusiasm that one wouldn’t normally expect from a former Microsoft executive.

One of the most interesting comments author Sinofsky made was this in regard to the evolution of iOS 11.

From a developer perspective, the capabilities in this release of iOS combined with the broadening device ecosystem (Watch and HomePod) are furthering the gap between iOS and Android. This is introducing important choices for developers. I continue to believe that ‘winners’ in categories will integrate and exploit native platforms and viewing every advance through a cross-platform lens is an innovation disadvantage. It is always important to remember that few customers own multiple platforms and so being consistent across platforms solves your problem but not customer problems.

Indeed, if I read that positive comment about Apple correctly, viewing any advance through any particular kind of agenda-shaped lens is bad. For example all of Apple’s four different OSes are derived from one common parent, Darwin, but each serves its own platform best and exploits the unique hardware in the best possible way. This is, I suspect, what Sinofsky was talking about when he mentioned choices for developers.

Author Sinofsky also enthusiastically echoes what the Apple community has surmised about Apple’s iPad initiatives.

What I believe Apple has cleverly done is introduce features such as ‘windowing’, drag and drop, and app switching that will cause the industry to take note of the improved productivity potential while at the same time not forcing a ‘desktop’ model on ‘everyone’. By and large these features are likely to fall to power users, but that is often how markets tilt. The new Files app (which is very early) will prove to be a game changer and so clearly ups the ‘power’ of the device as many core productivity scenarios are about juggling multiple files in some workflow.


In summary, what’s interesting about this article is not the recap of what was announced at the keynote (and quickly celebrated). Instead, we see a seasoned, former Microsoft executive virtually signing off on every product, technology and framework that Apple presented. With evident joy.

Plus, all this was particularly interesting to me because we had previously learned about Mr. Sinofsky’s resistance, back in 2010, to one of his colleague’s (J Allard) proposal for a tablet to compete with Apple’s new iPad. That was the ill-fated Courier project. The deal breaker was that it didn’t run Windows.

I can only guess that, after reading this essay, Mr. Sinofsky might have some interesting things to say, today, about his feelings back then. I’d love to get him on Background Mode to explain it all. Meanwhile, his analysis of WWDC’s keynote from his modern-day perspective is fascinating to read.

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2 thoughts on “Former Microsoft Exec Has Amazing Things to Say About Apple’s WWDC Keynote

  • John:

    You’ve got a very thoughtful and thought-provoking lineup in this week’s PD. Regrettably, my time affords only the briefest of reprieves, so let me focus on a couple of observations.

    Steven Sinofsky’s analysis of this year’s WWDC is more than a mere evolution and maturation of thought from a senior executive of one of Apple’s chief competitors – the president of the Windows division of MS no less; it’s an expert opinion from one who knows the business at an unambiguously competitive level, and now removed from that official position, can bring that expertise to bear on a disinterested, even if admiring, analysis. As such, his insights carry an authority that those of a non-practitioner or pundit could not. Beyond the patina of admiration for Apple’s accomplishments in software and hardware development that his words carry are his insights into their relevance and potential for both user experience and industry disruption. Importantly, many of his comments, such as those regarding iOS and the iPad, reflect emerging consensus amongst veteran Apple-centric thought leaders. That endorsement means more than many might initially appreciate. When one’s former foes and competitors say you’re doing it right, it really means that you’re doing it as right as anyone can imagine.

    The other comment is more of a gestalt of the meaning of most of your remaining articles. As I’ve commented before, Apple have reached a point in the evolution of their platform in which much of the productivity has to be internal and infrastructural, and less so externally productive in the traditional sense, in order for them to take their productivity to the next level. The developments in not simply software, but AI, AR, APFS, and exploration of a sat-based internet service are illustrative of this point. These are not traditional products, like new Mac models or new consumer product categories that most observers, pundits or clients would recognise, yet all of whom will benefit enormously thereby once that infrastructure and beneath-the-bonnet development is mature. When commenters opine that Apple are doing nothing (and no, this is not a reference to past TMO articles that have been thoughtful and evidence-based), this is, in most instances, mistaken, and indicative that this internal development is beneath their radar.

    If any of this is true, then it foreshadows that rapid and surprise development in unsuspected areas in ways that will both surprise and thrill Apple clients and challenge their competition are in store; perhaps nearer than we imagine. Based on all the foregoing, that is a reasoned prediction.

  • When working at Microsoft, both Steven Sinofsky and Jim Alchin clearly had a case of Apple envy. In both cases, these guys tried to reshape Windows in the image of macOS and failed. Even now, Windows 10 is a pale shadow of macOS. I recently installed a copy of Windows 10 on a 2012 Retina MacBook Pro I was utterly shocked to find that Windows is still largely the same old creaky code from 20 years ago, albeit with a yet another new coat of paint. The crazy thing is that even with the multiple re-skins (Windows Vista, 7, 8, and 10 have all made significant changes to the look of the UI), you can still drill down and find unaltered pieces of Windows 95 UI (and presumably code) scattered about. The real issue however, it that many of the same old bugs from Windows 95 are still there. It’s amazing how Microsoft keeps repackaging the same old junk and much of the tech media is fooled by it again and again.

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