As the Microsoft Windows Phone org churns

Matt Bencke, General Manager for Windows Phone Developer and Marketplace, has left the Windows Phone team to go to Xbox Live.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Another leader in Microsoft's Windows Phone unit has left.

Matt Bencke, General Manager for Developer and Marketplace, quietly moved from the Windows Phone org to Xbox Live, a move announced internally at the end of November 2011, according to my contacts. Bencke's move preceded the replacement of Windows Phone President Andy Lees with Corporate Vice President of Windows Phone engineering, Terry Myerson, by a couple of weeks.

(I've asked Microsoft for comment on Bencke's move. No word so far. But I've heard this from enough of my contacts that I consider it worth a report.)

Bencke had been in the Developer GM role since November 2010, according to his LinkedIn profile (which has not yet been updated to note his new Xbox job title). He was a part of the team that worked on the Microsoft-Nokia partnership. Before his latest job, he had been a General Manager on Premium Mobile Experiences (a k a, the team responsible for the ill-fated Kin).

There are a number of theories flying as to what all the recent churn means for Windows Phone. Microsoft is strongly believed to be making changes on the engineering side of the platform, substituting components of Windows (in the form of MinWin, possibly) for the Embedded Compact guts currently at the heart of the Windows Phone operating system. Microsoft could make that change as soon as mid-to-fall 2012 with its "Apollo" Windows Phone OS release, sources close to the company have said.

But Lees' and Bencke's moves may be more about marketing than about technology. Some are speculating (again) that Microsoft may be preparing to move the Windows Phone team under Windows. I've heard related rumors (just talk and rumors, folks!) that Windows Phone marketing -- not all of Windows Phone -- could end up under Windows marketing as part of this shift. So far, Microsoft execs haven't said when and/or whether the Windows Phone Marketplace and Windows 8 Store will merge, but some of my contacts are expecting this to happen sooner rather than later.

For the record, Microsoft officials continue to decline to comment on anything to do with "Apollo" or anything about the reasons for Myerson's replacement of Lees -- who has a new mystery role that involves both Windows 8 and Windows Phone and should come to light in 2012, the Softies have said.

Lees and Bencke are just a couple of the Windows Phone leaders that have moved onto other positions this year. In early November, Achim Berg, the former head of Windows Phone Marketing, became the Corporate Vice President of operator channels at Microsoft, "responsible for driving close collaboration with operator, hoster, cable and media partners," the Microsoft press site bio on him says. Microsoft has not replaced Berg.

In August, 21-year Microsoft veteran Charlie Kindel -- who served most recently as general manager of the Windows Phone Developer Ecosystem -- left to form a startup. (Microsoft officials had touted Bencke as Kindel's replacement.) General Manager of Windows Phone Product Management Stephanie Ferguson was replaced by Gavin Kim. Kim, the former VP of Consumer and Enterprise Services at Samsung is now General Manager of Windows Phone Product Management.

Microsoft currently has more than 45,000 apps in the Windows Phone marketplace.

As I've blogged and said repeatedly this year, I am a Windows Phone fan. (Yep, I'm one of the 1.5 percent.) I really hope Microsoft doesn't relegate WP to nothing but a complement to Windows, in terms of its positioning and marketing. But if Microsoft and partners can't grow Windows Phone share in a very substantial way in the next few months, maybe this is Plan B... (?)

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