Microsoft's Sinofsky way unavoidable for Windows 8

Windows chief Steven Sinofsky gets criticized for central planning, but that may be necessary to get Windows 8 launched. Windows 9 may be a different story.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Microsoft's Windows President Steven Sinofsky is billed as polarizing and a central planner who keeps products on time, but has ruffled a few feathers along the way. In this view, the success of Windows 8 could be a referendum on Microsoft's software development approach.

CNET's Jay Greene did a profile of Sinofsky, who generally avoids the press unless he's talking products. Sinofsky was the fix-it man for Windows following the Vista debacle. Windows 7 is a hit. Windows 8 seems to be polarizing in many respects. Personally, I give Microsoft credit for Windows 8. Win, lose or draw you can't blame Microsoft for being timid.


Greene serves up a bunch of interesting nuggets, but the short version goes like this:

The functional organization structure championed by Sinofsky is a flashpoint for his critics. Managers beneath Sinofsky say they had greater control over product development, working across groups with engineers, product managers, and software testers. Now, they say they feel more like cogs in the machinery, marching toward a final pre-determined goal, without the authority to shift course if they believe there's a more innovative approach to product design.

One former Microsoft executive said Sinofsky is like a Soviet central planner.

Also: Windows 8 is the new XP | Delaying Windows Upgrades: Do You Feel Lucky?

Now if you play this out, Sinofsky's approach is interesting from a software development perspective. A few thoughts:

  • Open source development is prevalent on the enterprise side. You give multiple developers a piece and watch them go. Sinofsky's approach may not allow many to feel that involved. Open source developers are invested. A cog in the wheel isn't.
  • Consumer products and their user interfaces may need centralization. Apple is a prime example of a controlling company with central figures driving software development.
  • Windows 8's mission is complicated and may need to be centralized. Microsoft is trying to bridge multiple screens---PC, tablets and smartphones---with Windows 8. It's quite possible that mission of Windows 8 just didn't allow for artsy developers to have much of a say.
  • The touchy, feely approach may not work at scale. Microsoft is massive and requires a large company structure.
  • Sinofsky may be right guy at right time...for now. If you ponder Windows 8 in the evolution of Microsoft, Sinofsky may be what's needed. Like a coach who is a taskmaster, Sinofsky gets results. That approach works well---until it doesn't. In other words, what's required for Windows 8 may not be necessary for Windows 9. Sinofsky could yield to an executive who is more of a player's coach.

If Windows 8 succeeds---and frankly it could take a year to have a firm measure---Sinofsky's approach and a few disgruntled employees won't matter. If Windows 8 flops, Sinofsky probably will too.

More: Microsoft executive pay: CEO Ballmer and President Sinofsky dinged over browser-ballot issue

Editorial standards