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Analysts divine traces of Windows 8 weakness, ego clash in Sinofsky exit

Gregg Keizer | Nov. 14, 2012
Steven Sinofsky, Microsoft's top Windows executive, abruptly left the company Monday, prompting a flurry reaction from long-time Microsoft watchers about why Sinofsky is gone and what happens now.

"Windows 8 reflects Sinofsky's style, which, according to some was alienating, secretive, and no-frills," observed Moorhead. "This is not Sinofsky leaving at the top ... that would have been seeing Windows 8 through tremendous sales of tablets."

Rob Helm, of Directions on Microsoft, was the loudest in disagreeing on those reasons for Sinofsky departing.

"Vista was different," Helm argued in an interview as he reacted to the idea that Windows 8 triggered Sinofsky's departure. "That was an ugly one. Here we didn't see any of that angst, or any of the delays."

From his chair, Helm saw the move as Sinofsky described it in his memo to Microsoft's employees. "If you wanted to be a CEO, or a manager of engineering at a large company, this was the time to leave, before they set out on Windows 9," said Helm. "It does seem, if that was the case, this was the perfect timing."

Analysts also crossed swords on how Sinofsky's absence will alter Microsoft's future, or even if it would. Some worried, others were sanguine.

"My main concern with his departure is that he understood mobile and the importance that mobile has in the new ecosystem," said Carolina Milanesi of Gartner in an email. "The new people appointed [to replace him] come from the traditional Windows background. I hope this change will not translate into a back-to-basics approach, just when we were starting to see some movement on Windows phone and tablets playing a role in the overall Microsoft proposition."

But Helm didn't see a major change in the offing.

"Putting Larson-Green in charge implies a certain amount of continuity. She was with [Sinofsky] all along, and fundamentally his right-arm designer, his Jony Ive," said Helm, referring to Apple's head of design and his reputation as former CEO Steve Jobs' closest confidant. "She was absolutely critical to the redesign of Office 2007 and Windows. She was instrumental in making a mark of the new Microsoft style [displayed in Windows 8]."

Cherry backed him up. "If he really was a good manager, then he left a good team in place that can continue work in his absence," said Cherry.

But Silver countered. "The question is how safe or strategic is Windows 8 now?" he said. "At the least, they'll have to do some damage control. We've been saying all along that Window 9 would be sooner than later, two years from now rather than the usual three. I think it's more likely now that they smooth all the rough edges of Windows 8 and quickly push forward on Windows 9."

Gillett, of Forrester, echoed Silver. "I read this as a move to get new leaders in place and get started quickly on an update to the software design of Windows," he said.


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