Thoughts on a Post-Sinofsky world, one week in

By Kip Kniskern | In Featured, Opinion | Posted November 19, 2012 12 comments

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
  • Joscelin Trouwborst

    I very much like this analysis. I myself commented in a blog of a Dutch professional ICT weekly that the Windows brand is legacy for desktop and business servers, that Microsoft better coin Live as the brand for its cloud, mobile services and devices: Live OS, Live Pad, Live Phone, Live Music … I feel that with all its fresh launches Microsoft has missed a chance to promote the fresh, moving, alive and kicking Live brand that appeals to the MSN generation. It should have remained Live Xbox, Live Hotmail (strong brand), Live Skydrive, and becoming Live Skype, Live Photos and so … such a shame and missed opportunity. Reconsider Microsoft, you can do it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joscelin.trouwborst Joscelin Trouwborst

    I very much like this analysis. I myself commented in a blog of a Dutch professional ICT weekly that the Windows brand is legacy for desktop and business servers, that Microsoft better coin Live as the brand for its cloud, mobile services and devices: Live OS, Live Pad, Live Phone, Live Music … I feel that with all its fresh launches Microsoft has missed a chance to promote the fresh, moving, alive and kicking Live brand that appeals to the MSN generation. It should have remained Live Xbox, Live Hotmail (strong brand), Live Skydrive, and becoming Live Skype, Live Photos and so … such a shame and missed opportunity. Reconsider Microsoft, you can do it.

  • tN0

    It was about time that they killed the Windows Live brand. And I believe this has noting to do with Sinofsky’s departure. It really makes sense to simplify the account management from Zune, Xbox, Windows Phone and Windows Live and Skype to a Microsoft account rather than this strange “Windows Live ID”.

    The Windows Live branding was unnecessary and confusing. What you call “the set of services with no name” is now used in almost every Microsoft product and even available for iOS, OSX and Android. So why call it “Windows Live”? That doesn’t make sense. So it is what it is: SkyDrive, Outlook.com and some Windows apps. And Windows Live Messenger is dead, soon replaced by Skype.

    So why did he left? We may never know for sure but was it really because of the bad collaboration between the divisions? From what I see is that Windows 8/RT has by far the best integration of almost every Microsoft service and product but it really lacks in the fundamental apps and software *inside* the Windows part.

    Where are the killer apps from Microsoft? Windows always had Office as a driving force. People choose a Windows PC because they wanted (or had) to use Office. Xbox has Halo. People bought an Xbox 360 just to play Halo. So where are the “Surface apps”? What is the real reason to jump on the modern Windows? If there is really a reason for his departure related to Windows 8/RT and Surface, I think it is the lack of (quality) software and not related to the current collaborations inside Microsoft.

    Do people remember there was this Touch Pack software suit for touch enabled Windows 7 machines including some nice games and a nice globe app? What happened to them? Not even Microsoft’s own new Solitaire game is available for the Surface RT! I was hoping for at least one killer game (not Halo related but maybe for kids), one killer education app (maybe a modern Encarta with Wikipedia reading and editing integrated). A killer newsstand and ebook app. Nothing happened.

  • tN0

    It was about time that they killed the Windows Live brand. And I believe this has noting to do with Sinofsky’s departure. It really makes sense to simplify the account management from Zune, Xbox, Windows Phone and Windows Live and Skype to a Microsoft account rather than this strange “Windows Live ID”.

    The Windows Live branding was unnecessary and confusing. What you call “the set of services with no name” is now used in almost every Microsoft product and even available for iOS, OSX and Android. So why call it “Windows Live”? That doesn’t make sense. So it is what it is: SkyDrive, Outlook.com and some Windows apps. And Windows Live Messenger is dead, soon replaced by Skype.

    So why did he left? We may never know for sure but was it really because of the bad collaboration between the divisions? From what I see is that Windows 8/RT has by far the best integration of almost every Microsoft service and product but it really lacks in the fundamental apps and software *inside* the Windows part.

    Where are the killer apps from Microsoft? Windows always had Office as a driving force. People choose a Windows PC because they wanted (or had) to use Office. Xbox has Halo. People bought an Xbox 360 just to play Halo. So where are the “Surface apps”? What is the real reason to jump on the modern Windows? If there is really a reason for his departure related to Windows 8/RT and Surface, I think it is the lack of (quality) software and not related to the current collaborations inside Microsoft.

    Do people remember there was this Touch Pack software suit for touch enabled Windows 7 machines including some nice games and a nice globe app? What happened to them? Not even Microsoft’s own new Solitaire game is available for the Surface RT! I was hoping for at least one killer game (not Halo related but maybe for kids), one killer education app (maybe a modern Encarta with Wikipedia reading and editing integrated). A killer newsstand and ebook app. Nothing happened.

  • Malphas

    I have to disagree with some of the sentiments of this article. The Live brand was always confusing and unnecessary and Sinofsky had the right idea in streamlining Microsoft’s products to revolve around Windows and Office, and a unified “Microsoft Account” similar to Google’s.

  • Malphas

    I have to disagree with some of the sentiments of this article. The Live brand was always confusing and unnecessary and Sinofsky had the right idea in streamlining Microsoft’s products to revolve around Windows and Office, and a unified “Microsoft Account” similar to Google’s.

  • chinch987

    Not sharing Surface/ARM info with Office 13 team probably was the final straw as Office for iOS/Android will ship next year (without a doubt) and the comparisons to performance vs Surface will be critical. SS squandered giving a huge head start for the inevitable Metro version to the team.

    it’s also pretty clear Sinofsky was an task-oriented ego-maniac who really f’d up on numerous fronts.. most importantly delaying the MS transition to touch & completely failing to build an ecosystem. Metro is awesome and has huge potential but is at least 18 months late! Just WTF has MS been doing in getting the rest of the windows shell ported to RT/ARM?

    The obvious takeaway is Win8 (like Windows Phone 7 was), is a transitional product launched incomplete to build an ECOSYSTEM (again like WP7 allowed wp8 to launch with 100K phone apps) for the complete product… Win9 (and WP8).

    ps – windows live brand needs to die. fast.

  • chinch987

    Not sharing Surface/ARM info with Office 13 team probably was the final straw as Office for iOS/Android will ship next year (without a doubt) and the comparisons to performance vs Surface will be critical. SS squandered giving a huge head start for the inevitable Metro version to the team.

    it’s also pretty clear Sinofsky was an task-oriented ego-maniac who really f’d up on numerous fronts.. most importantly delaying the MS transition to touch & completely failing to build an ecosystem. Metro is awesome and has huge potential but is at least 18 months late! Just WTF has MS been doing in getting the rest of the windows shell ported to RT/ARM?

    The obvious takeaway is Win8 (like Windows Phone 7 was), is a transitional product launched incomplete to build an ECOSYSTEM (again like WP7 allowed wp8 to launch with 100K phone apps) for the complete product… Win9 (and WP8).

    ps – windows live brand needs to die. fast.

  • guest

    “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.”

    Apparently outgoing Director Reed Hastings didn’t get the memo. Because he says it’s still all about Windows, which of course is true. The rest is Ballmer’s wishful thinking.

  • guest

    “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.”

    Apparently outgoing Director Reed Hastings didn’t get the memo. Because he says it’s still all about Windows, which of course is true. The rest is Ballmer’s wishful thinking.

  • CustomComputers

    Enjoyed your prospective Kip.

    This departure has hopefully been the first of many within an organization with no real leadership. When in Ballmer’s words,
    [Julie Larson-Green has a “proven ability to effectively collaborate and drive a cross company agenda”] she will effectively be doing what a good CEO should have been doing. That premise has not been effective at this company for years. Public confidence has erroded over many years and in fact left the consumer quite confused.

  • CustomComputers

    Enjoyed your prospective Kip.

    This departure has hopefully been the first of many within an organization with no real leadership. When in Ballmer’s words,
    [Julie Larson-Green has a “proven ability to effectively collaborate and drive a cross company agenda”] she will effectively be doing what a good CEO should have been doing. That premise has not been effective at this company for years. Public confidence has erroded over many years and in fact left the consumer quite confused.