Vista 'broom' sweeps top execs out the door

No 'brain drain,' but analysts connect Vista problems with Microsoft departures

The departure of a number of high-level Microsoft Corp. executives who worked on Windows Vista doesn't qualify as "brain drain," but it's probably connected to the operating system's perceived failures, analysts said today.

Prompted by the news of the departure of Will Poole, a 12-year Microsoft veteran who until mid-2007 was responsible for the client version of Windows, several analysts weighed in on recent resignations.

"I don't think it's significant that people who have been there for decades decide to leave," said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at JupiterResearch. "They're at the point in their lives -- and probably from a financial perspective too -- when they can do what they want. They've been there, done that for king and country."

Rob Helm of Directions on Microsoft agreed that the departure of Poole and others wasn't unusual enough to warrant concern. It certainly didn't meet his definition of "brain drain." But he, along with Gartenberg and Michael Silver, who covers Microsoft at Gartner Inc., mentioned Vista when discussing the departures.

"With the launch of Vista, there was a new broom," said Helm. "There were a number of people who moved out, or were moved out, of [the] Windows [group] in the wake of Vista. Some of them have decided to move on out of the company.

"In a big company like Microsoft, they never run people out on a rail," said Helm. Instead, people leave when they're not happy with the project they've been assigned after a reshuffle. "Maybe they don't get run out or town, but they move on," he added.

Of the executives with responsibilities related to Vista's development and launch, several have left Microsoft since early 2007, beginning with Jim Allchin, a 17-year veteran who retired the day Vista debuted. Allchin, then the co-president of the company's platforms and services division, had been responsible for the development and delivery of Vista.

Other Vista hands who have recently left Microsoft include Michael Sievert, a 2005 hire who led Windows product marketing before and after Vista's release, and Rob Short, a 19-year veteran who headed the Windows Core group.

Although none of the three analysts would link specific departures to Vista's bumps and bruises, both Gartenberg and Silver mentioned Poole. "Maybe it wasn't completely unsurprising," said Silver, "but when Poole was moved to run the Unlimited Potential group, that didn't sound like a promotion."

As part of a general reorganization of the Windows group in March 2006, Poole was shifted to run a unit created to focus on Windows in emerging markets and new devices.

"When you have a product that hasn't lived up to its potential, that could be playing a role here," said Silver, talking about the departures. "I think there's some acceptance that there is a need for a change in [the] Windows [groups]."

Gartenberg echoed Silver. "This raises the question of who will be the next generation of Windows leadership," he said. "What happens next for Microsoft and how do they try to drive acceptance of Windows going forward?

"How are they going to fix the [public] perception of Vista?"

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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