Windows Chief Steven Sinofsky Departs Microsoft

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Microsoft's Windows head honcho has left Big Redmond. The change is at least as big a shakeup as Apple's decision to remove Scott Forstall as head of iOS in October, as Mr. Sinofsky has greatly steered the direction of Windows and oversaw the development and launch of Windows 8.

Steven Sinofsky

Steven Sinofsky, Outgoing Head of Windows

Mr. Sinofsky's responsibilities are being divided between two women, Julie Larson-Green and Tami Reller. A Microsoft veteran since 1993, Ms. Larson-Green will head up the engineering side of Windows. She was responsible for programming management of both Windows 7 and Windows 8.

Ms. Reller started at Microsoft in 2001, when Big Redmond swallowed up Great Plains Software. She currently serves as chief marketing and chief finance officer for the Windows group, and will assume control of the business side of Windows, too.

In a statement, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said, “I am grateful for the many years of work that Steven has contributed to the company. The products and services we have delivered to the market in the past few months mark the launch of a new era at Microsoft. We’ve built an incredible foundation with new releases of Microsoft Office, Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, Microsoft Surface, Windows Server 2012 and ‘Halo 4,’ and great integration of services such as Bing, Skype and Xbox across all our products."

He added, "To continue this success it is imperative that we continue to drive alignment across all Microsoft teams, and have more integrated and rapid development cycles for our offerings.”

According to AllThingsD, the decision for Mr. Sinofsky to depart was officially mutual, but note that last sentence we quoted. Mr. Ballmer said that it's imperative that his company have, "more integrated and rapid development cycles for our offerings."

That strongly suggests that Mr. Ballmer doesn't feel his company has those things today, so just how mutual this decision was may be open to conjecture.

Mr. Sinofsky wielded considerable power at Microsoft. Windows is one of two cash cows at the company, and it was reportedly Mr. Sinofsky who killed Microsoft's Courier tablet project because he saw it as a threat to Windows.

The company went on to eventually launch Surface tablets with the interface formerly known as Metro, arriving two years late to the tablet party started with Apple's iPad. Some might even say he engineered the train wreck that has been Microsoft's tablet approach.

The Microsoft Train Wreck

Images made with help from Shutterstock.

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Is there anything where Microsoft doesn't feel compelled to copy Apple?

But seriously, Mr. Sinofsky is a talented engineer and has accomplished more at Microsoft than most of us can hope to accomplish in a lifetime. We believe, however, that his desire to protect Windows has held Microsoft back in mobile.

Windows 8 in general, and Surface in particular, are prime examples of that. Whereas Apple is willing to jettison any technology or product when it has outlived its usefulness, Microsoft is anchored by its own enormous legacy. To wit: thinking that a keyboard is the thing that people really want in a tablet. It's just so married to the past.

In any event, it's possible Mr. Sinofsky's departure might allow Microsoft to finally make some progress in mobile, especially if the two incoming executives are willing to take risks.

Speaking of which, hats off to Microsoft for promoting two women into these positions. The tech industry's leadership ranks are dominated by white men, and Ms. Larson-Green and Ms. Reller are assuming two highly visible positions. Let's hope they bring the kind of vision to their jobs that will allow Microsoft to resume an innovative edge in the industry.

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Perhaps it’s just might my current hectic travel schedule, but I am not seeing the flood of reviews - positive or negative - that I would have associated with such a major product launch from a company of MS’s stature, as the Surface should represent. Even the sudden departure of Sinofsky from MS has caused scarcely a ripple, nor was it attended by a train of ‘MS doomed!’ articles in its wake, as one would witnessed with Apple and its recent personnel shakeups.

For that matter, neither have I seen the torrent of reviews of Windows 8 that I anticipated. Indeed, even amongst the usual Windows pundits, the verdicts have been decidedly muted, with focus not on whether they like or dislike, but on technical issues, such as how to do migration from one Windows version to 8.

Curious, or as Spock would say, ‘Fascinating’. Perhaps I just need to catch up with my tech reading this weekend.

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