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Why So Secretive, Steven Sinofsky?

Now that the main elements of Windows 8 seem locked down, will Sinofsky be more forthcoming with information for Microsoft's hardware partners?

Steven Sinofsky is notoriously secretive. Among senior Microsoft executives, he's known for his ability to keep projects quiet and carefully calibrate the release of information.

Message control is a critical skill for the president of the Microsoft Windows and Windows Live Division. Sinofsky's secrecy helped fuel the excitement around the "Windows 8" unveilings in May and June and again at the BUILD show in September. (See "Top 8 Partner Opportunities in 'Windows 8'" for key opportunities in Windows 8 for partners.)

Sinofsky provided a revealing statement about his philosophy in the inaugural posting on the Building Windows 8 blog on Aug. 15: "We've certainly learned lessons over the years about the perils of talking about features before we have a solid understanding of our ability to execute."

It's a veiled reference to the Windows Vista/Longhorn project, in which major features, such as WinFS, were promoted and then pulled, wasting OEM partners' and developers' precious pre-release attention. Part of the reason Windows 7 has been such a success is that Sinofsky was able to keep that project's scope fairly limited and controlled the pre-release messaging to prevent the ecosystem from having its time wasted.

There was another huge problem during the Windows Vista time frame, though, and that was how long it took OEMs to find out what the OS hardware requirements would be. Much of that confusion stemmed from Microsoft's internal struggles to finalize the major feature set. Nonetheless, Sinofsky wasn't truly tested on that issue with Windows 7. The OS was designed to run on the same hardware as Windows Vista, making coordination with OEMs far less critical.

Windows 8 is a different animal. While early demos show it using less PC resources than Windows 7, Windows 8 is getting into entirely new hardware categories with a new platform partner in ARM. At the same time that Microsoft is "reimagining" Windows, OEM partners must reimagine the hardware beneath it.

Early signs were troubling with Intel and a few OEMs engaging in public sniping early in 2011 about the differences in application compatibility for Windows 8 PCs and tablets. Microsoft's public statements at the time did nothing to clarify the rare public spat in the usually clubby atmosphere among strategic technology partners.

On the other hand, Microsoft showed its ability to work closely with Samsung in secret to deliver the surprise tablets running the Windows 8 developers preview for BUILD attendees.

Microsoft has opened the informational floodgates lately, with the Building Windows 8 blog as well as at BUILD. Now that the main elements seem locked down, will Sinofsky prove able to switch gears and share information with hardware partners freely enough to allow their creativity to run off in productive directions?

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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Reader Comments

Wed, Nov 9, 2011 David Howard

I think it is a bit misleading to say that Steve Sinofsky is a master at Secrets. Compared to Apple Microsoft is a constant floodgate of information both real and imagined. You know what they *think* they will do years before they do or do not. Yet we do not even know the form of an Apple iPhone update until a week before 1000s are standing in line to buy it.

Tue, Nov 8, 2011

We as Americans have this same historical tendency, to comfort ourselves via assumptions that our supposed leaders have a master plan by which we are, as a nation, moving into a brighter future. While a wonderful quality, this hopefulness for the future, unwarranted belief in leaders can be a dangerous thing. And so it is now in Redmond. Many want to believe that Sinofsky has a master plan, that his obnoxious and offensive secrecy will be somehow seem entirely justified once we've simply been enlightened. Unfortunately, however, nothing could be futher from the truth, as the veil of secrecy is nothing more than an attempt to shield investors, corporate customers and the developer community from an acute awareness of the desperate scrambling ongoing behind the curtain, that there is no plan and no one currently in place, Sinofsky least of all, capable of victoriously leading Micrososoft through the most challenging period in its history.

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