The abrupt announcement that Windows boss Steven Sinofsky is leaving Microsoft raises big questions about what’s going on behind the concrete and glass facades in Redmond.
Sinofsky just launched the boldest overhaul of Windows in a generation, the cornerstone of Microsoft’s epic year that Chief Executive Steve Ballmer has been cheering about lately.
Some say that Sinofsky and Ballmer have been battling lately, and the sudden announcement suggests a fallout between the two most powerful men at the company.
Don’t be surprised if we hear fairly soon about additional organizational changes taking place at Microsoft as Ballmer sorts through his lineup.
Here’s my speculation about what may be going on:
1. Sinofsky was passed over for the opportunity to succeed Ballmer as chief executive. Perhaps Kevin Turner or someone else internally was given the nod, despite Sinofsky’s huge achievements building the company’s flagship Office and Windows products.
2. Ballmer was going to divvy up Sinofsky’s kingdom in a way that didn’t go over well. Perhaps it was time to split Windows Live services from big Windows and give Chris Jones, VP of Live services, more responsibility?
3. Could Microsoft be hiring Scott Forstall, the ousted head of mobile software development at Apple? Forstall is a local guy who interned at Microsoft and has family in this area. If he was hired by Microsoft, he’d take a top spot and carve out some of Sinofsky’s turf.
4. Sinofsky may have another offer, although he’s already running the biggest group at the biggest software company in the world.
5. Sinofsky may have simply decided enough is enough, and opted to leave at a high point in his career.
6. Perhaps Ballmer’s recent comment about Surface tablet sales “starting modestly” signaled a problem with uptake of the company’s first computer hardware, or displeasure with the initial response to Windows 8 overall. If there’s a problem with Windows 8 uptake, it’s odd to replace Sinofsky with a lieutenant who championed the software’s radical new interface and the Surface.
7. Maybe Ballmer wanted to appease enterprise customers and PC makers who wanted the option of pre-configuring Windows 8 with a traditional desktop interface instead of the default “tiles,” and Sinofsky refused to back down on the software’s signature design element.
8. Sinofsky may be prickly at times but he doesn’t seem like the type to pull a Petraeus.
Regardless of the reason, it’s momentous that a woman is now in charge of Windows, the group that produces the software that most people around the world use to do their computing.
It’s also a score for the hometown schools that are overshadowed by the bigger research universities. Sinofsky’s successor, Julie Larson-Green, is a product of Western Washington University and Seattle University.