Steven Sinofsky, Microsoft's top Windows executive, abruptly left the company Monday, a move that some analysts saw as an indictment of Windows 8. But other experts believe more was at play and that Microsoft will stick to the strategic trail Sinofsky blazed.
The mixed reaction from long-time Microsoft watchers, some of them former company employees, reflected the "Kremlinologist" tactics necessary to peer into a major company like Microsoft, especially one where Sinofsky's penchant for secrecy had taken hold.
Microsoft announced Sinofsky's exit late Monday. According to the company, yesterday was his last day, as his departure was effective immediately. Microsoft promoted Julie Larson-Green, a Sinofsky lieutenant and Window's chief designer, to head all Windows software and hardware engineering. Meanwhile, CFO Tami Reller, who also is the firm's head of marketing, will manage the business side of Windows.
Although Microsoft did not say why Sinofsky left, in a memo obtained by CITEworld -- a sister publication of Computerworld -- Sinofsky said it was his decision. "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," Sinofsky wrote.
Some analysts weren't buying that.
"There is undoubtedly either a major culture or personality clash going on internally at Microsoft, or something personally going on," said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy in an email.
Others noted Sinofsky's quick exit as a reason to doubt his story. "When an executive plans to leave, there is usually a lot more than what this [Microsoft press] release states," said Al Gillen of IDC in an email. "It sure looks like this was a decision that was made for him."
The idea that Sinofsky was forced out because of his leadership style -- which has been characterized as abrasive and non-collaborative -- was a thread that ran through many analysts' thoughts today.
"He had a reputation of being difficult to work with," said Michael Silver of Gartner, choosing his words carefully in an interview late Monday. But if Windows 8 -- Sinofsky's last project -- had been wildly successful, that would have been overlooked. "I'm not saying that Windows 8 is the reason for this ouster. But I am saying that the lack of huge success may have made his personality and way of doing things less tolerable. They needed someone who could bring parts of Microsoft together and reduce the sniping."
Silver wasn't the only one who drew a line between Windows 8 and Sinofsky's egress.
"This departure appears to be a repudiation of the strategy and direction of Windows 8 design, partner strategy, and Microsoft hardware," said Frank Gillett, an analyst with Forrester Research.