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

November 13, 2012 02:01 PM ET

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.

Others saw a silver lining in Sinofsky's leave-taking, however it came about.

"Sinofsky was said to alienate [independent software vendors, independent hardware vendors], retail partners and customers with his Microsoft-first attitude," said Moorhead. "Partners wanted a bit more empathy and less Apple-like behavior, [so] many will be happy to see him leave."

Most had similar thoughts.

"Frankly, Sinofsky made the company more closed, and more likely to share direction only after that direction had been so heavily committed to that there was no turning back," observed Gillen. "The [Windows] division seemed to be enamored with how Apple brought products to market -- meaning operate in relative silence until announce."

But even with the clues read, the entrails studied and the tea leaves turned over, analysts still worked in the dark, as one acknowledged.

"Maybe Sinofsky was trying to do the right thing, but the wrong way," speculated Silver. "It didn't reduce the sniping within Microsoft by giving him more responsibility. That's not necessarily a great corporate culture. So will it go back to more sniping or less now that he's gone?

"And can they still grab the excitement that Apple has in the market? Windows 8 clearly didn't do it. But they have to figure out where the problems are," Silver said.

covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at Twitter @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed Keizer RSS. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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