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Sinofsky's Exit Not About Windows 8

A key figure in several of Microsoft's biggest product releases in recent years, Steven Sinofsky has left the building. But that doesn't mean he won't be back.

It was a time when Steven Sinofsky should have been taking victory laps around the Microsoft campus for delivering Windows 8 -- the most transformative product from Microsoft in more than a decade. Instead, he's leaving, officially by mutual agreement between Sinofsky and CEO Steve Ballmer.

The news brought out a lot of critics saying the personnel move is clear evidence that Windows 8 is already viewed internally by Microsoft as a disaster. Don't buy it. If Microsoft really thought Windows 8 was a huge mistake, the company wouldn't have risked further suppressing sales by bringing any attention to that realization with such a high-profile parting only three weeks after launch.

The far more likely scenario is that Sinofsky's notoriously polarizing personality inside Microsoft had become untenable for Ballmer. Profiles of Sinofsky describe an executive as controlling inside Microsoft as you'd expect from the way he clamped down on the flow of information to the outside world about Windows 8 prior to the product's release.

In the official statement, Ballmer said he was grateful for Sinofsky's many years of work -- and the CEO strongly endorsed the products Microsoft has just released, from Windows 8 to Microsoft Office. At the same time, Ballmer made a veiled reference to the importance now of playing nice with others. "To continue this success it is imperative that we continue to drive alignment across all Microsoft teams," Ballmer said.

From a Machiavellian standpoint, Sinofsky was also a challenge to Ballmer's authority. Widely viewed as a talented technologist, Sinofsky has now overseen successful Office launches, the critical Windows 7 launch and the unprecedented challenge of redoing Windows from scratch. With that resume, there was almost nowhere for Sinofsky to go but into the CEO's office. The decision to help Sinofsky find the exit reinforces the idea that Ballmer has no intention of leaving Microsoft soon.

So this ends the Sinofsky chapter at Microsoft -- or does it? Mini-Microsoft, the mysterious Microsoft insider who blogs about stack ranking and the mood inside Microsoft company meetings, was an early supporter of the idea of Sinofsky as CEO.

In a Nov. 12 entry, Mini-Microsoft expressed the internal view that Sinofsky is going out on a high note with Windows 8, and suggested his departure doesn't rule him out for Microsoft CEO. "If he stays in tech and becomes CEO of another company, it makes him an even more obvious choice to come back to Microsoft as its leader," Microsoft's most famous anonymous blogger wrote.

Sinofsky's parting statement goes from boilerplate to interesting when re-read in that light. He said, "It is impossible to count the blessings I have received over my years at Microsoft. I am humbled by the professionalism and generosity of everyone I have had the good fortune to work with at this awesome company."

Mending fences for a future return? Let me know what you think -- leave a comment below or e-mail [email protected].


About the Author

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