When Microsoft fired... excuse me, announced that Windows and Windows Live President Steven Sinofsky is leaving the company, many Microsoft experts opined that he left because of internal politics. Sorry. I don't buy that argument for a New York minute. If Windows 8 took off at the same rate Windows 7 did--with developers anxiously looking forward to publishing software for it--and had Sinofsky’s strategic moves worked, such as Microsoft deciding to make its own Windows 8 hardware, we'd be talking about Sinofsky as Steve Ballmer's successor, not left wondering what the heck just happened.
Yes, I'm sure internal politics had something do with it. Sinofsky wasn't the easiest guy to work with. You know whom else I've met in the technology business who wasn’t that easy to work with? Guys like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Larry Ellison. While being self-centered and cocksure of yourself causes friction, when you make successful technology and business decisions, it doesn’t kill your career.
Nice guys usually finish last at top tech companies. What counts, what always really counts in tech, is delivering the hot technology on which people spend serious money. If you blow that, and you're not the CEO, you're history. Just ask Scott Forstall, former head of Apple's iOS.
Like Sinofsky, Forstall didn't get along well with a lot of his company's top brass. For years, that didn't matter. The iOS-powered iPod, iPhone, and iPad were, and still are, killer devices. But, then Forestall started making mistakes. Siri didn't work that well (or at least it wasn’t the killer app everyone hoped for) and then Forstall decided to dump Google Maps from iOS 6. With the Apple Map mess, for the first time even the most loyal Apple fan had to admit that Apple had blundered.
No one inside of Microsoft is saying that Windows 8 is a blunder. That is, they aren’t saying it yet. Give it a few years. But, ignore all the rah-rah Windows 8 fan-talk and take a closer look. What do you see?
I see Windows 8 early adopters preferring Windows 7 by two to one. That wasn't people like me who are cynical about Windows; these were true-blue believers.
Windows developers? ZDNet's own Matt Baxter-Reynolds, a self-confessed Windows 8 fan, wrote that one of Sinofsky's fundamental mistakes was a push for WinRT over .NET, and its associated push towards old-style proprietary development over a more open-source friendly approach. By deprecating .NET for native Windows 8 and Windows RT, Sinofsky made programming moves that were "nothing short of disastrous."
I talk to a lot of developers, and they agree. Windows 8 mobile was never attractive to iOS and Android programmers because there wasn't enough money in its market. Windows developers, those with years of experience in .NET, found WinRT to be a pain to program in. Such fundamental questions as how Windows Phone 8 APIs will merge with Windows Store (a.k.a. Metro) app APIs remain unanswered.
All that could have been forgiven if Windows 8 had been a bestseller. It's not. We don't have real numbers yet, but early indications aren't good. Steve Ballmer admitted that Surface RT sales were “modest.” That, I might add, is after Sinofsky personally intervened to speed up Surface deliveries.
Frankly, I'm surprised if anyone would buy a Surface RT. Whether you compare it to an iPad, an Ultrabook, or a Chromebook, Surface RT is over-priced and under-powered. It's a toy for early adopters and true Windows RT developers (http://www.zdnet.com/i-love-windows-8-but-surface-rt-is-for-early-adopters-and-developers-7000006459/), not ordinary users.
Windows 8 PC sales also don't look good. The analysts describe Windows 8's outlook as "mixed." Personally, I've been talking to both OEMs and retailers. They are, in a phrase, not happy. In particular, they're getting push-back from users who want "real Windows," not Windows 8.
That's one reason why HP is walking very, very carefully about Windows 7 support on its Windows 8 consumer PCs. As well they should. HP tied its consumer PC future to Windows 8, which at least one analyst thinks was a foolish move. You can say that again!
So what really happened? Was politics part of the reason he was fired? Sure.
Was part of it a desire for Microsoft to get rid of one their best, albeit controversial, software developer managers before getting to grips with the next version of Windows? I find that one harder to buy, but at least one Microsoft expert has proposed it.
Here's what I think really happened. The straw that broke the camel's back was that neither Windows 8 nor Surface were blockbuster successes. Had they been so, none of the rest would matter. As it is, Sinofsky was fired for Microsoft's sins.
That doesn’t mean he was responsible for all of Microsoft's mistakes. I don't think the real blame for Windows 8, Surface, and Microsoft's other recent shortcomings should fall on Sinofsky's shoulders. The true culprit in Microsoft's long slow decline remains Steve Ballmer and the board that lets him stay in charge of the company. After all, at day's end, Ballmer, not Sinofsky, is Microsoft's boss.