Thoughts on a Post-Sinofsky world, one week in

By Kip Kniskern | In Featured, Opinion | Posted November 19, 2012

It’s been (almost) a week since Microsoft announced Steven Sinofsky’s departure as President of Windows and Windows Live Division, which is now up officially in an SEC filing:

As announced on November 12, 2012, Steven Sinofsky, President of the Windows and Windows Live Division, resigned as President of the Division on November 12, 2012. He will remain an employee until December 31, 2012.

We’ve been reading lots about the departure all week long, and although it’s still far too early to know what the fallout of this monumental change in leadership at Microsoft will be, a few things are bubbling to the top as early observations:

First, of course, and as evidenced by the wording of the SEC filing, Steven Sinofsky resigned.  He wasn’t “fired”, but it’s hard to believe that he would have left without a hard push out the door from Steve Ballmer.  Yes, the timing was right, just after Windows 8 shipped, and yes, we expect Sinofsky to appear again, probably as soon as a non-compete clause would allow (Our guess?  Maybe he’ll get into the devices game.  He seemed to really enjoy building the Surface, and Windows 8 is his baby.  Could he come back pushing the boundaries in tablet design somewhere?).

But if Windows 8 were an early rousing success, and sales, and by far more importantly feedback from partners and OEMs were rousingly positive (they’re not), we probably wouldn’t be talking today about Sinofsky’s abrasive and abusive demeanor, or his departure.  Yes, it’s far too early to gauge sales of Windows 8, but it isn’t too early to gauge OEM enthusiasm, and blaming the OEMs for not producing hardware they don’t think will sell is missing the point.

Politics played a part in Sinofsky’s departure, certainly, and we expect more stories to surface about what it was like to work for, or more importantly, to try to work against him.  But we don’t think it was politics, per se, that drove Sinofsky out the door.  Rather, we think that Steve Ballmer realizes that it really is a Post PC, or more to the point, a post “Windows rules all” world.

Steven Sinofsky grew up at Microsoft believing that Windows and Office were king, something he learned at the hand of Bill Gates himself.  He ran Office that way, and much of his perceived difficulty with other divisions when he moved to Windows involved a belief that all roads lead to Windows and Office.

His efforts with Windows Live, first to get a bunch of myriad products pared down to their “essentials”, and separated from the core of Windows, and then to move Hotmail back to Office, and Outlook, where it belonged, and finally to relegate Windows Live to just a set of un-named “apps” were all to protect Windows, and promote Office.

While we’re on the subject of Windows Live, we find it interesting that even though “Windows Live” was apparently dropped internally in early September, the term has resurfaced both in Steve Ballmer’s email to the company announcing the decision:

Effective immediately, Julie Larson-Green will lead Windows engineering. She will be responsible for all product development for Windows and Windows Live, in addition to Surface.

..and again in the SEC filing, above, where Sinofsky is still listed, officially, as the President of Windows and Windows Live Division.

Now, before you think we’re going on some crusade for the return of our namesake or something, that’s not it at all.  However, we do have to wonder if one of the decisions of Sinofsky’s, that is, to deprecate not only the Windows Live brand, but also the notion of a high profile set of products and services that “light up” Windows, under a single brand, was broadly embraced within the company.

We find it interesting that while pundits dissect every word in Ballmer’s email, noting that Julie Larson-Green has a “proven ability to effectively collaborate and drive a cross company agenda” as evidence that Sinofsky, by exclusion, didn’t collaborate, Ballmer’s choice of promoting Larson-Green to lead product development for “Windows and Windows Live” has been glossed over.

It’s one of the things that we’re just going to have to wait and see about, but we’ve never been a fan of “the set of services with no name”, and by whatever name, we’re at least a bit hopeful that Microsoft can come to their senses and give stuff like “the built in apps” and “the design language that used to be called Metro” proper names once again.

If nothing else, we now know that it’s still the “Windows and Windows Live Division”, at least for now.

But back to the point. Microsoft isn’t “Windows and Office” anymore, and in fact isn’t even a software company, according to Steve Ballmer.  It’s a “devices and services” company, and in order to make that all work, divisions like Skype and Windows Phone and IEB (Xbox) and OSD (Bing, MSN) have to gain equal footing in the company.  That wasn’t going to happen without Sinofsky buying in, or moving on.

With a new single cross device OS core running not only Windows and Windows RT, but Windows Phone and soon (we hear) Xbox, the secrecy driven “Windows knows best, we’ll tell you when we’re ready” model just wasn’t going to work.  Those devices and services within the company need early access and early input into ways to improve that OS core, something we doubt they were going to get in a Sinofsky led Windows division.

All of this is pure conjecture, of course, at least until word starts filtering out what really happened, and we start seeing the company change in ways it wouldn’t have with Sinofsky at the helm.  It’s only been a week.

Posted November 19th, 2012 at 9:56 am