The last 48 hours have been shocking to say the least (not to mention they changed my writing plans). The news of Windows President Steven Sinofsky’s abrupt leaving of Microsoft has already caused ripples; Microsoft’s stock fell a few dollars down.
With the general availability of Windows 8/RT and Surface, I have decided it is time for me to take a step back from my responsibilities at Microsoft. I’ve always advocated using the break between product cycles as an opportunity to reflect and to look ahead, and that applies to me too.
Sinofsky leaves the company with a mixed reputation and legacy; a brilliant engineer he served as Bill Gates’s assistant and was said to have convinced him to introduced TCP/IP in Windows 95. He also has a reputation as a solid deliverer of product with the ability to fix broken divisions. Sinofsky also has a reputation for not playing well with others and a penchant for secrecy.
The whole affair has lead to the obvious comparisons to Apple’s dismissal of iOS chief Scott Forstall, another divisive yet dependable deliverer. Also many are saying Microsoft has lost it’s Steve Jobs; the one man at Microsoft with the ability to deliver quality product in a timely fashion.
So someone please cue up the Microsoft is Doomed/Lost/Stagnate posts for later.
I cannot pretend I am sad about the passing of the torch. I have been persona non grata with the Windows division for the entire time that Sinofsky ran it. Many long-time Microsoft employees, managers and testers have expressed similar sentiments, mostly in private. Here’s hoping to better days, in terms of how the Windows client team interacts with all of its constituents: Its customers, partners and us Microsoft watchers.
To say reaction has been mixed would be an understatement. Many Microsoft watchers such as Mary Jo Foley reacted positively to the news; Sinofsky’s style closed off some sources of information and blocked inquiries. For developers, especially those in the .Net and Silverlight worlds like Matt Baxter-Reynolds, Sinofsky was a scourge hampering developers with introducing the Windows Run Time. And yet others like Microsoft’s Dare Obasanjo saw Sinofsky as a leader to be emulated.
In the immediate aftermath, Julie Larson-Green will take over as head of Windows division, which also oversees the Surface; Larson-Green currently heads User experience (how it looks) and has worked with Sinofsky since his days as head of Office. So for all those thinking that Sinofsky’s leaving will see an end to Windows 8 and the new Start screen and even the Surface; better luck next time.
The way things get done in Steven’s organizations is so straightforward it hurts. You spend some time thinking about what you want to build, you write it down so the entire team has a shared vision of what they’re going to build and then you build it. The part where things become contentious is that getting things done (aka shipping) requires discipline. This means not changing your mind unless you have a good reason to after you’ve decided on what to build and knowing when to cut loses if things are coming in late or over budget.
The question now is what next for the Windows platform? For all his faults, Sinofsky delivered in ways unmatched by many at Microsoft. He managed to turn around both of Microsoft’s two biggest divisions and deliver major products on time. The issue facing Microsoft is will it ever have someone at the helm that can deliver in this area. There’s also the vision issue; what is Windows story going forward. The one question facing Sinofsky wasn’t about delivering a product or engineering, but the level of innovation and imagination also necessary. With Windows 8, Microsoft is moving the platform toward the consumer market in ways it hasn’t in the past. The current and next head of Windows must look beyond the enterprise and developers and think about the consumer market. There is also the Surface which further moves the dial.
Sinofsky for all his controversy brought a level of discipline needed to run a large enterprise like Windows; the transparency and hard choices he brought to the table helped fix issues plaguing the Windows division. Now the question shifts to who can bring that same focus as well as vision to the division.
Let me leave you with links to articles that provide better background than me along with both Steven Sinofsky’s last message to the troops and CEO Steve Ballmer’s internal remarks.