Windows boss shown the door

Steven Sinofsky

The technology world is abuzz today with news of the abrupt departure of a key executive at Microsoft. Steve Sinofsky is probably the second most important figure at the company after the chief executive Steve Ballmer. Now he is leaving with immediate effect.

His exit, just weeks after the launch of Windows 8, raises questions about the future direction of the business, not least because he was seen as a credible successor to Ballmer. A 23 year veteran of the company, he was a familiar figure to anyone who attended a Microsoft launch, a polished performer explaining just why we should be excited about the latest innovations in the Windows operating system.

The Windows 8 launch has been seen by the company as a great success, moving Microsoft into the new touchscreen mobile era, with Steve Ballmer celebrating the sales of four million copies in just three days. True, there have been some complaints from those who see the new operating system as an uneasy mix of the new mobile world and the old desktop environment, but Microsoft seems confident that all is going to plan.

So why has the man who has been central to the launch gone? Microsoft's statement revealing the news has done nothing to dampen the rumours of a bust-up at the top. Although it features a quote from Steve Ballmer expressing gratitude for Sinofsky's years of work and another from the man himself talking of the professionalism and generosity of everyone at "this awesome company", there is no explanation of why he is leaving.

That quote from the Windows president is also in an email he has written to Microsoft staff in which he says he is leaving to pursue new opportunities. He says that this is an ideal moment for him to move on, having launched Windows 8, and is keen to dispel any conspiracy theories: "This was a personal and private choice that in no way reflects any speculation or theories one might read - about me, opportunity, the company or its leadership."

So if it is as simple as that he wants to go off and do something else, why did Microsoft not make that clear in its press release? I put that to the company and got no real response.

Then I looked at a CNET profile of Steven Sinofsky. The article, which appears well sourced, talks of a brilliant but divisive figure, feuding with fellow executives and creating "a toxic work environment that has chased talented employees away from a maturing company that's in desperate need of innovative thinking."

So perhaps Steve Ballmer was rather relieved when Mr Sinofsky talked of seeking out new opportunities. In any case, it is inevitable that there will be speculation because Mr Sinofsky's departure comes at a time of upheaval in some other big technology firms.

The most obvious example is Apple, which last month got rid of Scott Forstall, boss of its iOS software division, and John Browett, who very briefly ran the retail operation. Both were apparently axed because of serious failings - notably in Forstall's case the disastrous Apple Maps launch which resulted in the millions who upgraded to iOS 6 getting a much worse product than they'd had before.

What all of these giant companies are trying to do is foster a continued spirit of innovation and risk-taking in a fast-moving environment where any mistake can leave a business floundering to catch up. When I interviewed Steve Ballmer last month, my repeated suggestions that Microsoft had struggled to innovate in recent years were met with some impatience.

But it seems likely that he decided that the completion of Windows 8 was a good time to review how the company was working. Now another company veteran, Julie Larson-Green, has been given the task of heading up Microsoft's most important division, running all of Windows software and hardware engineering.

In my experience, Microsoft still employs some of the brightest and most capable people in the technology industry. But combining their efforts to produce a fast moving business turning out innovative products remains a challenge.

Rory Cellan-Jones, Technology correspondent Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    53.T Realist

    So you are happy to dig into the control panel & then Java to remove old versions are you & if you don't you are open to a number of attacks! etc.

    I edit video, sound and write music and use dozens of applications and files. I run several bespoke services & databases too & have encrypted disks & I code in several languages and long from text in several languages.

    Win 8 is a pain!

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    I find Win 8 Pro to be good for my needs as a gamer, surfer, video editor and tinkerer. The Metro Start screen has all the shortcuts I will need now that I have cleaned it to my needs. The hate is mostly unjustified, the Metro screen is my Start button but without the crap I never needed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    @51 John_from_Hendon

    Another method John, and others, is to use the links tool bar along the top and paste in links to your favourite apps. If you know how you can write a couple of batch files and have a shut-down or log-out option too. But that only solves a few of its many issues.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    To those who hate Win 8


    Download one of the many 'XP like start button' replacements available for Win 7 to give you a quasi start button on the left hand corner of the screen. Just hit the desktop thing and forget the rubbish interface.

    This overcomes the lack of support for XP coming to your PC soon!

    Or switch to Linux... (say Kubuntu which I find OK)

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Windows 8 is Vista 2 - or that is the impression I get.
    Win 7 is ok but not as stable or reliable as XP.

    Products like Win Media Player have gone heavily downhill over the last few years, with features and flaws that look very like the work of sloppy, incompetant, or amateur programmers..

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    @45 alby

    No paradigm shift here I'm afraid. It's just big tech desperate to be the leader with the next big fad. Ultimately the market will decide and if there is a low up-take this idea will die. Win 8 is fine for small screen portable devices, but that's it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    Touchscreens aren't prolific for desktop environments because of ergonomics. A monitor is supposed to be eye-level, holding your arms up to type / click / scroll is going to cause muscle strain over time.

    Windows 8 will not see major business use. It's good for tablets. That's it. Windows 7 is better for desktop use as it was designed for a mouse and keyboard.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Google docs is going to kill Office .... ROFL!!!

    If you hate the Metro interface so much then just disable it - 99% of points on here are moot.

    As you were.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Very few people would leave such a high profile, and well-paid, job willingly. Whenever someone says they're leaving to "seek new opportunities", or to "spend more time with family", it usually means they were pushed out.

    I feel sorry for the small number of people who genuinely DO leave for those reasons, though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    @27. Under-Used

    Initially touch is just to replace the mouse. I've seen a number of good setups with a touch screen and a physical keyboard.

    Ultimately real estate will not be an issue. Here is a 'desktop' from the TED talks in 2006.

    We are really in a paradigm shift and will have the pain of hybrids like Win 8 for a while.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    The universal dislike of Windows 8 UI must surely be the underlying reason.

    We had a SurfaceRT tablet at work for Eval, and it was rubbish. I also tried Windows 8 on the PC, and it's a horrible experience, it doesn't know what it wants to be, it wants to turn my PC into a mobile phone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    A product that is moving from laptop/desktop mode to hand-held is fraught with risk. The two contexts are amazingly different in terms of the use of applications.

    You can perhaps write a document on a handheld but will you tend to do so? Unlikely, since the usage of the handheld is more mobile and we tend to text rather than write documents.

    Handheld computing is for a go-go market of users.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    @41 Obviously you don't though I would not expect anything else from someone calling a consumer product "perfect".

    I wish I could see the world the way you do and be happy in the midst of the consumerist ennui of our times, matey.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    @40 - I don't think anyone is being pushed anywhere its a choice to buy but for the people that like open source (free) like Linux or Ubuntu etc... you may be totally compatible with the rest of the world when you make enough donations so there can actually be any development worth looking at :D

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Who cares? These mammoth multinationals trying to push us all into the walled garden of their enslaving systems are nothing but the main enemy of an open sourced society where communal innovation returns to the people the control of their own life.

    Good riddance I say!

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    @38 - You can on the desktop (desktop apps only) and to be fair I think Microsoft did forget about the business side of things with windows 8 as I have been told you cant manipulate the security policies the same on this system in a network environment (not verified) like you can on windows xp-7 so maybe that is where windows 8 will fall down but for a consumer product I think it is perfect

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    @37 bainzy07 (sorry about that)

    Metro apps are designed to run in full screen. Multi-tasking has been made practically useless in Win 8. Yes you can run multiple apps simultaneously, but you can no longer use them simultaneously and have been pushed into one-screen-one-app interface switching from one to another. Power-users are baffled by this retro-grade step.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    @36 - I have to disagree I find it just as easy to multitask (to change window move the mouse to the top left rather than the bottom not much different other than direction) on this as on windows 7 & I think cross-generation operating systems are the future and Microsoft has hit the nail on the head if you use multiple systems its more to learn as well (tem = £) and its bainzy07 not brainzy07 :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    @ 33 brainzy07 & 34 Alexander

    Brainzy07 try multi-tasking and tell me what you think of the interface?

    I agree, and that sort of device is a media consumption device such as a tablet or mobile-phone but not a desk-top computer. Win 8 tries too hard to touch too many bases; it wants to be a mobile interface, a desk-top interface and a tablet interface all in one package: an identity crisis.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    @4- Microsoft has always made large sales from upgrades rather than people going buying a new pc.
    @6- Everyone said that with Vista (didn't happen)
    @13- Microsoft now have a store for apps


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