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

Disagree about future course for Windows and company, but 'damage control' is likely

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Last month, Gillett said that 2013 was "going to be ugly" for Microsoft as the company tries to stabilize its plummeting share of operating systems for what he called "personal devices," which includes not only PCs but also smartphones and tablets.

Windows 8 and its tablet-centric spin-off Windows RT, as well as Microsoft's first-ever tablet, the Surface RT, launched Oct. 26. But while sales figures are scarce, months of negative analyst, blogger and reviewer analysis have had an effect. The consensus: Windows 8 and Windows RT, although necessary if Microsoft is to compete with Apple, Google and Amazon in tablets and smartphones, will be hard sells because of their new "Windows 8 Store," nee "Metro," user interface (UI).

Few analysts went as far as Gillett in tying Sinofsky's departure to Windows 8, if only because the jury is still out on the new OS.

"I think there is some relationship to Windows 8," said Gillen, "but precisely what that relationship is, is hard to say."

"It is too early to call Windows 8 either a success or a failure," said Michael Cherry, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland, Wash.-based research firm that focuses solely on Microsoft.

But there is precedent at Microsoft for head-rolling. In 2006, Jim Allchin, a 17-year veteran who had been responsible for Windows Vista, the debacle that was years late and panned by almost everyone, announced his retirement the day the operating system shipped in late 2006. Other Vista hands, including the head of Windows product marketing and lead of the Windows Core group, were also shown the door.

Silver elaborated on his take of a link between Windows 8 and Sinofsky's exit by citing numerous opportunities that Microsoft has had to boast of any Windows 8 or Surface RT success. With a lack of such bragging, Silver concluded that the new operating system and hardware have not met the company's internal goals.

"On the number of Windows 8 upgrades, there was no explanation [of numbers]," said Silver in one example. "If they had had great success at upgrades, they would have said so. I have to think that the products were just not as successful as they had hoped."

"This comes as a real surprise," said Gillen, reflecting the unanimous opinion of all the analysts contacted by Computerworld. "However, reading [Microsoft's] press release indicates that Sinofsky did not make it through the biggest challenge of his career."

While it may not been the only reason, a majority of the analysts believed that Sinofsky got the ax, at least in part, because of the direction he took with Windows 8, Windows RT and Surface RT, and the perception that all were compromised products.

"Windows 8 reflects Sinofsky's style, which, according to some was alienating, secretive, and no-frills," observed Moorhead. "This is not Sinofsky leaving at the top ... that would have been seeing Windows 8 through tremendous sales of tablets."

Rob Helm, of Directions on Microsoft, was the loudest in disagreeing on those reasons for Sinofsky departing.

"Vista was different," Helm argued in an interview as he reacted to the idea that Windows 8 triggered Sinofsky's departure. "That was an ugly one. Here we didn't see any of that angst, or any of the delays."

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