Sinofsky's departure from Microsoft: Politics or products to blame?

Sinofsky's departure from Microsoft: Politics or products to blame?

Summary: Microsoft Windows President Steven Sinofsky's departure begs the question: Was it products or politics behind the move?

TOPICS: Windows, Microsoft

In the hours following word of Windows President Steven Sinofsky's immediate departure from the company, speculation swirled as to the "real" reasons for the move.


A number of folks on Twitter and email opined that they believed supposed poor early sales of Windows 8 and/or the Surface RT were to blame. I'm betting many Microsoft watchers on Wall Street will react similarly. Windows 8 launched commercially just about three weeks ago; it's too soon to judge if the latest Windows release and the Microsoft Surface tablet will be deemed successes or failures. And still months before anyone will be sacrificed if internal projections are unmet.

I give more credence to the politics theory. My CNET colleague Jay Greene wrote a profile of Sinofsky recently, in which he noted the Windows chief had sparred with a number of senior Microsoft managers, and even CEO Steve Ballmer.

I don't see Monday's news as signifying any kind of change in short-term Windows product strategy. I'm not anticipating a return of the Start Button or a return of Silverlight. I'll be surprised if the new Windows regime, currently headed by engineering chief Julie Larson-Green and CFO/CMO Tammi Reller doesn't continue to follow the current preset course, with "Blue," the first Windows 8 successor, hitting by mid-2013, followed by Windows 9 by 2014 or so. (There likely will be cross-divisional strategy changes coming in the not-so-distant future, but more on that in a bit.)

Read this

How Steven Sinofsky changed Microsoft, for better and for worse

How Steven Sinofsky changed Microsoft, for better and for worse

When Steven Sinofsky moved to the Windows division in 2006, it was fundamentally broken. He leaves behind an engineering process that runs smoothly. But he also leaves a legacy of cutthroat politics and feuding between divisions.

It's also worth noting that the timing of the Sinofsky departure announcement isn't as unusual or alarming as some are claiming. Windows 8 engineering is finished; the product is now in the hands of the marketers, deployers and licensors.

Once products ship and new planning/development cycles begin at Microsoft, management changes often happen. Plus, at the end of each calendar year (and also many times at the mid-year point), Microsoft often instigates reorgs, sometimes within single business units, and other times across business units.

There was a clue in Microsoft's most recent proxy statement of a possible coming reorg. Read this excerpt from my write-up:

Next year, Microsoft plans to measure things a bit differently, with less of an emphasis on the performance of Microsoft's five individualized business groups, the Proxy notes. "For 2013, the focus of awards under the Plan will shift from performance ofseparate business groups to a combination of business group and company-wide performance. This shift aligns with our overall business strategy to provide integrated product and service offerings, and this requires deeper cross-organization collaboration."

Remember that word: collaboration. It can mean anything from being willing to use other teams' code, to not standing in the way when another division launches its product on a competitive platform.

Sinofsky is known inside and outside the company as a guy who got things done and done his way. Rumors regularly reappeared about Sinofsky angling to take over more business units. And until recently, it seemed like Microsoft's own senior leadership team, as well as Ballmer himself, had capitulated, allowing Sinofsky to make whatever management decisions he deemed fit. Those who disagreed left or were shown the door (and probably won't be back, though never say never).

But more recently, something seemingly changed, including the rhetoric. Ballmer's note to the troops about Sinofsky's departure emphasized the ability of his successor Larson-Green's "proven ability to effectively collaborate and drive a cross company agenda." I smell a reorg....

If the "doesn't play well with others" reason really is a big factor in Sinofsky's departure, who are the "others" who pushed back? Here are the remaining heads of Microsoft's biggest teams:

  • Server and Tools: Satya Nadella
  • Online Services: Qi Lu
  • Business Division: Kurt DelBene
  • Entertainment & Devices: Don Mattrick
  • Windows Phone: Terry Myerson
  • Skype: Tony Bates
  • Chief Operating Officer: Kevin Turner
  • Research and Strategy: Craig Mundie

Another question: Who is going to be the new President of Windows? Neither Larson-Green nor Reller was awarded the President's title. Who will be placed in that role, either from inside or outside the company? 

In hindsight, some recent puzzling events now make more sense. Why was Sinofsky sitting in the audience prior to the start of the first keynote at Microsoft's late October Build 2012 conference -- just before Ballmer surprisingly took to the stage to demo Windows 8. (Not something Ballmer typically had done, but he did it quite well.) Why was Sinofsky's performance at the October 26 Windows 8 launch so atypically rote and lackluster? Why were Sinofsky's scheduled press interviews just before the Windows 8 launch cancelled on very short notice? (I wasn't on the short -- or the long -- list to get one, but I heard from others this was the case.)

Microsoft has a CEO who, for better or for worse depending on your perspective, isn't going anywhere for a while, unless the board says so. Ballmer told the Wall Street Journal recently that he's planning to stay on as long as he's "adding value and/or until somebody better should come in and take over." After today, there's one less potential in-house candidate for that takeover.

Topics: Windows, Microsoft


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Microsoft investors:

    "This is what you bet the company on".

    Oh my god.....
    Mark Str
    • Microsoft will fail, and investors will lose everything.

      Ballmer had to blame someone for the disaster that we now know Windows RT has become. Windows RT (and the Surface tablet) was supposed to be Microsoft's big future, but now everyone knows it has become a flop.

      Ballmer is not going to blame himself. First he looks for a scapegoat. Sinofsky is the one.

      But don't feel sorry for Microsoft shareholders. They are the ones who kept Ballmer in his position despite so many failures in phones and portable devices, going back to Zune, and every phone platform that Microsoft ever attempted. They all failed.

      As the rest of the world moves to the ARM processor for all computing needs, including phones, desktop and even servers, Microsoft will have missed the boat and have nothing to show.
      • Really?

        "but now everyone knows it has become a flop"

        We know? Do show your evidence of this, please.
        • right

          and iPhone 5 is a failure because the maps reorg?

          • Maps schmaps.. They work just fine...

            Don't you realize what is going on here??? Monkey-Boy Ballmer just lost his "Mini-Me" (Beloved creator of Windows TeleTubby otherwise known as Windows H'Ate)...

            Mr Bigglesworth is going to be very upset about this...
        • Not certain, but there are signs....

          Ballmer called Surface RT sales "modest". Given that Microsoft was raving about Vista doubling the acceptance rates of XP, not quite a month after the launch, this does not bode well... words like "modest" are often code for "S-U-C-K-S".

          But certainly, no hard numbers yet that I've run across, for either RT, Windows 8, or Windows Phone 8. But if Microsoft isn't trumpeting some real success sometime next month, they have problems.
        • Planet Earth To Carlitos

          You really need evidence that Surface as well as Windows 8 are a flop? You are obviously leaving in a different planet.

          Sinofsky is out so we have one muppet out of the Microsoft circus now let’s get rid of the rest and let’s get this company back to its feet.
      • Re: Microsoft will fail, and investors will lose everything.

        "As the rest of the world moves to the ARM processor for all computing needs, including phones, desktop and even servers, Microsoft will have missed the boat and have nothing to show."

        From what I know, Windows RT and WP8 runs on ARM, plus MS is already working in Windows x64 for ARM.

        So I'm not sure MS has "missed the boat", as you mentioned.
        • ARM Processers

          ARM proscessors are great for iPad/iPhone, Andriod phones and tablets, MS Surface and phones, and small notebooks/laptops, that are going to be used for internet surfing, word processing and light to moderate photo editing use. ARM CPU's has one major advantage over regular CPU, Power consumption, it was originally intended for portable systems that wouldn't suck the battery dry quickly. I will stick with an Intel i5 or better cpu system (MAC or PC Based) when I am doing video or photo editing. Why try to replace a system that works well.
        • Here's the thing....

          No one's quite expecting Windows Phone to run "real" Windows applications. PocketPC, Windows Mobile, Windows Phone, etc. never have. Not too sure what the reality of Windows Phone vs. Windows RT is, in terms of sharing binaries -- yes, old Phone apps usually run on Windows RT, but who really wants a phone app on a tablet. But I digress....

          ARM is the only choice for phones right now, though Intel's really trying to deliver an x86 phone that compares on price, power, and performance. It's an option only for Android, which works fine on x86, but of course, apps written under the NDK rather than the Java framework have to be re-compiled for x86 (estimated to be about 20% of the apps). Same for Android tablets. And of course, no x86 on iOS.

          But for Windows, x86 has a huge advantage over ARM -- it runs real Windows applications. No, Intel's Atom for tablets won't run real Windows apps any better than Atoms did in netbooks. But also no worse. And that's going up against ARM tablets, looking identical, being priced identically, costing the same or even less.

          Yeah, less. Intel's latest is a single-chip SOC, not the two-chipper of most netbooks, and they're pricing it against the Tegras and the OMAPs and the other ARM chips. All Windows RT suppliers have to bundle (and pay for) both Windows RT and Office-not-for-profits, while the Windows 8 tablet providers have no bundle requirement. And of course, Windows RT tablets are locked down, both in BIOS and in the Metro-only, Windows Store Only software sales. Windows 8 is not so locked down.

          So Intel has a natural advantage against ARM on Windows, nowhere else. This has the potential to hurt, if not outright kill, Microsoft's move to leverage Windows success into an ARM platform.
      • Really, really?

        Have you even tried Windows 8 or the Surface? I have a Surface, and it is a great device. Much more productive and versatile than the iPad, in my opinion. And since MS hasn't released any sales figures yet, I don't think you can label it a flop on that side of things.
        • iPad has 2 years on Surface RT

          What I see few people mentioning is that iPad has about a 2 year head start on Surface RT. That means two years to shake out the bugs and make the OS work better on the hardware. From the reviews I've read from people that already own and use a Surface RT, they find it pretty useful, often more so that iPad for doing some actual work. Give Surface RT a year or so to tweak the OS now that it's released to the general public (who are often more likely to find the bugs in the OS than a bunch of paid technicians at headquarters) and it's possible that Surface RT will become THE tablet/convertible to own. Same with Apps. As the Surface RT numbers grow, more developers will be willing to work on Apps as well as tweak and debug the early ones already out there. Surface RT definitely has some features I'd prefer over iPad. I'm not an early adopter but give it a little time and I'm sure I'll be in line for a Surface RT machine.
          • That is a bit of a stretch.

            Predicting victory at this point is more than a bit of a stretch. Hopefully MS doesn't think that they have it in the bag already as you obviously do. The competition is not static and has a history of being more innovative than MS is. At this very late point in the game the MS Slate people should be thankful if they even survive until the next version let alone claim victory. Remember how Ballmer and his MS Windows phone 7 team claimed victory over the iPhone even going as far as having a funeral for the iPhone? To date MS Phone sales are still abysmal when compared to iPhone and Android, I think that it is more realistic to expect the MS slate sales to follow the same pattern. If anything has been proven by Redmond it is that they are clueless about what the market wants or needs, they simply copy others.
          • That is a bit of a stretch.

            I think after that load of bull you were suppose to say "you've been punked".

            Yes Windows Phone 7 didn't sell well but that was largely because of the carriers. Anyone that went into a store would see the sales people trying to sell anything but Window Phone 7 devices. People would ask about them only for the sales person to skip and try and sell them an Android or iphone. Some of the carriers blamed Microsoft for not having enough training but come on, I picked up my Windows Phone Arrive and learned the OS in no time. Its laziness and bias from the sales people at these stores. If I were the owner and I saw this happening I'd start firing people and hire people who will do their jobs.

            I'm not saying that if the sales people did their jobs that Microsoft would be at 30 or 40% sales, but I think they'd at least be at 15-18% and people would be more ready for Windows Phone 8 and that would jump to 20-25%, but now its going to be a little harder, but I think it can be done. Microsoft won't be 90%+ in the mobile market, but I think the desktop and laptop market (also with the hybrids coming out) the PC market still has momentum and when Windows 8 Pro devices come out I think they'll be very popular.
          • Nope

            Windows 7 Phone failed largely because the hardware stunk. Microosoft limited devices to the features of Apple and Android units two years past. And that was before Microsoft announced that Windows 7 Phone devices were being officially orphaned. These things actually do matter.

            Yeah, they're fixing this in Windows Phone 8. There are already devices, like the Nokia Lumia 920, that are competitive (ok, that's a pretty fat, heavy device, but it's at least in the ballpark against the iPhone 5 and all those Androids). Could be some savvier buyers really wanted Windows Phone, but waited for it to get "real", and will buy en masse. Also possible that the Windows 7 Phone debacle will leave a bad taste in buyers' mouths.
          • iPad

            iPad has its short comings but I would I still would buy it over the MS Surface system.
          • Much better than that

            The iPad had the benefit of iOS being around since 2007... iPad software was just a tweak to what worked for the iPhone.

            Microsoft, meanwhile, is starting over from scratch with Windows RT. Ok, not quite, since they have some framework elements (.NET) targeting WinRT or Win32, but it's still a new OS, with new bugs, just keeping the kernel in common with Win32. Given that it's been out two weeks and already had a huge critical update, that's a pretty good sign of things to come.

            Plus, it has to sell side-by-side with real Windows tablets, Intel Atom tablets at the same or even lower prices than RT tablets. RT has to wait for good software, Win32 doesn't have tablet software, but iOS and Android have pretty much anything you'd want on a tablet. Microsoft will ultimately be successful, but that's more an observation of Microsoft's history. And it could take a long time.

            Look at gaming... Microsoft really wanted to win in game consoles, needed to own part of the "living room media center" business. The have... but it took over ten years of losing money to do it. Many companies wouldn't have the stomach for that. Microsoft did, and that's a sign they'll keep at it in tablets and phones.

            The one problem: if Windows 8 fails. I actually think Windows 8, as loathed as it is by professionals (and for good reason), will have some traction among regular users. As the popularity of all the tablet interfaces has shown, content consumers love a simpler UI. And most PC users are largely content consumers, which is well enough served by the Metro UI, or any of the tablet UIs. So there's certainly a class of consumer that will like the new look, like the Windows Store approach with tablet-style cheap apps, etc. Windows 8 could actually do well, even if it's eschewed by professionals. That success would enable the tablet as a real competitor against the other guys. Eventually.

            If it fails, though, that's a big problem for Microsoft. As with the relative failure of Vista, that has a huge impact on Microsoft's bottom line. In the golden era of XP, Microsoft was actually worth more, inflation adjusted, than Apple is today. They've never recovered. Sure, it's a relative hit -- Microsoft will sell crazy units, but the difference between 300M and 600M units it pretty serious. A bad failure would both limit Microsoft's taste for years of losses in mobile, and limit the value of that mobile market through the very slow adoption of WinRT.
      • Microsoft will fail...

        "the disaster that we now know Windows RT has become."
        How do you know? It has barely been out 10 days and you are calling it a disaster? What I think could make it a disaster is Microsoft marketing. How many people are getting a chance to see the Surface? Does your town have a Microsoft store in it? There are states in which there is no single store in the entire state. Is this smart marketing? There is hardly a department store I walk into in which I don't see Apple products. The same disaster has been associated with the Windows phones - who shows them and why? Microsoft is reminding me of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) back in the late 80's and early 90's - a company that had terrific products, but no marketing savvy whatsoever. That company went down as a result.

        "As the rest of the world moves to the ARM processor ... Microsoft will have missed the boat" Again what are you talking about. The Surface RT runs on ARM in case you don't know...
        • You might want to check your math

          "t has barely been out 10 days and you are calling it a disaster" It was announced on October 26th, which is more than 10 days ago. They are also on course to sell as many as 1.5 million this quarter. Oops they might sell 1.5 million? I would expect that for a weekend, not a quarter, or even a month.
          Troll Hunter J
          • Announced is not the same...

   available. Look it up.