A Sudden Departure

Well, I certainly didn’t see that coming… Steven Sinofsky, the head of the Windows division, has left Microsoft, and the question that everyone is asking is: “did he fall, or was he pushed?” There’s clearly an inside story here, and it may come out one day. What it definitely is not, despite the many blog and forum commentators saying it, is that he was fired “because Windows 8 and Microsoft Surface are disasters”.

Much more likely is that he either left or was pushed because, under his leadership, the Windows division remained a fiefdom that refused to play nicely with the other product divisions in Microsoft. I’ve mentioned before how, during my time in Shell when I had frequent contacts with Microsoft, I was struck by the silo-like nature of the product divisions, and how the NIH syndrome ran rampant within the company. The famous cartoon of Microsoft’s organisational chart was not far from the truth. It may well be that the Windows division was the last holdout of that attitude, and now with Sinofsky’s departure, that attitude may go the way of the dinosaurs. I see that Julie Larson-Green, who now takes over the Windows division, is reported to favour cooperation over competition.

As an aside, I must say I am disappointed and disgusted at the high levels of sexist and misogynistic comments in the blogosphere that have greeted the news of her appointment. Clearly, we are not very far advanced in geekdom.

With the benefit of hindsight, of course, perhaps the signs that something was in the wind were there at the launch of Windows 8. Sinofsky’s presentation struck me as being strained, and not up to his usual standard. Of course, he might just have been having an off day.

Whatever the reasons behind Sinofsky’s departure, his division delivered Windows 8, which, contrary to the many who either hate it, or damn it with faint praise, is an astonishing engineering achievement. Things are going to get interesting.

Update: Hal Berenson has some interesting insights into the choice of Julie Larson-Green, together with some background on Microsoft’s management culture and practices. The key quote for me:

There were choices besides Julie within the Windows organization that Steve Ballmer could have elevated.  …  Without knowing anything about how these other executives are currently viewed it might be hard to say why he chose Julie over them, but it is very important to note that Ballmer did have choices.  Julie didn’t get the position by default, Steve obviously believes in her ability to lead Windows forward.

About Geoff Coupe

I'm a British citizen, although I have lived and worked in the Netherlands since 1983. I came here on a three year assignment, but fell in love with the country, and one Dutchman in particular, and so have stayed here ever since. On the 13th December 2006 I also became a Dutch citizen.
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4 Responses to A Sudden Departure

  1. Mark says:

    I have to believe that pushing through such a radical change as Windows 8 – on time and with the feature-set they promised, is a pretty major achievement, something that will serve Mr. Sinofsky well in whatever endeavor he feels like trying next (my guess is that he will try a smaller startup just for a change)

    As for the future of Windows, I don’t see any radical changes, the core concept – a cohesive ecosystem that matches tablet, desktops and phones – is a sound one and one that is being actively pursued by the “other” systems. I am personally disappointed in the current Metro limitations and non-desktop focus but I am trying to remember it is a 1.0 release

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