Microsoft Partners Weigh Sinofsky's Departure, Windows 8 Direction6:57 PM EST Tue. Nov. 13, 2012
Microsoft is staying mum about the details behind the sudden departure of Steven Sinofsky, the company's top Windows executive. Speculation among channel partners and industry analysts centers on reported friction between Sinofsky and other Microsoft executives and questions about the demand for Windows 8 and the availability of applications for the new operating system.
"The timing of Sinofsky's departure is certainly curious," said Spencer Ferguson, president and CEO of Wasatch I.T., a Salt Lake City-based Microsoft partner. "I guess it's better that it happened now instead of before/during the Windows 8 launch."
Microsoft announced late Monday that effective immediately Sinofsky was out as president of the Windows and Windows Live Division, the unit responsible for developing and marketing the company's flagship PC operating system.
Julie Larson-Greene, a Microsoft employee since 1993 and most recently corporate vice president for the Windows experience, has been promoted to lead all Windows software and hardware engineering efforts. Tami Reller, currently chief financial officer and chief marketing officer for the Windows Division, retains those jobs and takes on the added responsibility for the business of Windows.
"They did have ready replacements for him, so I don't think the Windows 8 machine will stop," said Joseph Awe, president of TechBldrs, an Exton, Pa.-based Microsoft partner. "Microsoft isn't saying why Sinofsky's leaving and I hate to conjecture without facts."
Sinofsky's departure comes less than three weeks after Microsoft launched Windows 8 in a press event in New York. The executive shakeup raises questions whether early sales of Windows 8 and Surface, Microsoft's branded tablet computer, are meeting expectations.
One channel partner, who asked to remain anonymous, sees Sinofsky's departure as a positive because the partner saw him as a communications roadblock between the company and partners.
Sinofsky's obsession with secrecy was evident at last year's Build conference, the partner said, where Microsoft's field evangelists responsible for driving developer enthusiasm were not allowed to talk to Build attendees about Windows 8. "They literally could not engage in conversations, and they couldn't explain why," said the source.
Microsoft's near-total lockdown on information pertaining to Windows 8 has been a source of concern in the channel, agreed Tim Huckaby, CEO at InterKnowlogy, a Microsoft Gold partner in Carlsbad, Calif. He is cautiously optimistic that Sinofsky's departure will lead to a freer flow of information from Microsoft.
"If his leaving means the information embargo has been lifted and Microsoft's field employees are kept in the know about [product] road maps, that would help us dramatically," Huckaby told CRN. "When they went dark on partners, it really hurt our business."
NEXT: Are There Enough Third-Party Apps For Windows 8?
A Wall Street Journal article Tuesday said Microsoft watchers had considered Sinofsky to be a possible successor to Ballmer. But, the story also said he was widely seen as "a polarizing figure" who was unable to collaborate well with other senior executives.
Several industry watchers said Sinofsky's reported difficulty in working with others was a likely factor in his quick departure. "From what I read, he wasn't the best at cooperating with other departments in Microsoft. I don't see how that could ever be good for an organization, so in that regard this could be a positive," said Ferguson at Wasatch I.T.
Others lament his departure. "Sinofsky was great at getting things done, and getting them done well," said John Kvasnic, CEO and co-founder of Navantis, a Toronto-based Microsoft partner.
"It's not unusual for people at Microsoft to finish a project and move somewhere else," said Gartner analyst Mike Silver in an interview. "But usually that's within Microsoft if it's successful and outside of Microsoft if it's not. And, I think Sinofsky's reputation precedes him, in terms of his personality and way of doing things, and certainly there have been rumors about dissension at Microsoft. You can only get away with certain behaviors as long as your products are hugely successful."
The CEO of a top Microsoft partner said Sinofsky's sudden departure could have been in part due to what he saw as a lack of available third-party applications for Windows 8. "Microsoft is two years late developing an application development community for Windows 8," said the CEO, who did not want to be identified for fear that it would hurt his relationship with the software giant.
"I hear chatter all the time for companies to develop for iOS and Android. I don't hear anybody talking about getting a Windows 8 application out there." The first priority for the two Microsoft executives replacing Sinofsky has to be to "engage the development community to develop robust Windows 8 mobile applications," the CEO said.
The executive thought Sinofsky did a good job with the presentation layer of Windows 8, developing a new mobile interface that could allow Microsoft to make up lost ground in the tablet and smartphone market. But he said Sinofsky did a poor job of building a Windows 8 application development community.
Other partners don't see the number of applications available for Windows 8 as an issue. Christopher Hertz, CEO of New Signature, a fast-growing, Microsoft exclusive solution provider based in Washington, D.C., said the quality of Microsoft Windows 8 applications are "high" and certainly sufficient for consumers and businesses.
"Measuring the success of a platform by the number of apps is a poor measure," Hertz said. "Many of those applications are not used. I have an iPad and I only use maybe seven or eight applications. The general populace uses less than 1 percent of the apps available."
NEXT: Questions About Windows 8 Demand, Positioning
Others think the Windows 8 interface itself could be part of the problem. Windows 8 is the first version of the software specifically designed to run on traditional PCs as well as touch-screen tablet computers.
One partner believes the duality of the Windows 8 user interface, which straddles the line between desktop and mobile computing, is confusing for many customers. "If you look at the start screen, and the desktop underneath it, you can almost imagine the political boundaries within Microsoft," the source told CRN.
"I'm hoping the new folks can see past the myopic view of 'touch' driving everything in the Windows 8 design, and moving to something that blends the Metro interface with traditional multitasking Windows," agreed Awe at TechBldrs.
Microsoft has not disclosed any sales figures for either Windows 8 or Surface since the launch, leading many to wonder how well it's doing in the marketplace.
"Look, we didn't see lines of people around the block after Surface was announced," said Gartner's Silver. "You know, you go to some of the Microsoft stores, and they have so many sales folks basically in the halls of the mall like fragrance sellers, like 'Would you like to try Surface RT, would you like to try this?'" "If [Microsoft was] expecting or hoping that this would turn into an Apple frenzy or a Windows 95 frenzy, I don't think it happened," Silver said.
"Apple has a big product launch and people camp out all over the world," echoed a channel partner CEO. "Microsoft has a big product launch and no one shows up. I have to think this executive shakeup is somehow related to the lackluster reception for Windows 8."
The CEO thinks Microsoft may have made a strategic miscalculation by aggressively promoting Windows 8 as a consumer operating system rather than a business product. "With the launch of Windows 8, it is unlikely any Microsoft partner is forecasting any incremental revenue gains. It is like a non-event," he said.
Other channel partners remain upbeat on Microsoft in general and Windows 8 in particular. "Microsoft lost a great executive, but I don't think it's because of Windows 8," said New Signature's Hertz. "Windows 8 and Surface are phenomenal products. It is not due to any failure to produce a phenomenal [Windows 8] product.
"Sinofsky is a brilliant guy and clearly a talented manager," added Hertz. "But Microsoft is a big company. It transcends more than one person. The Windows 8 ecosystem is healthy and growing. Windows 8 is a home run."
Carl Mazzanti, CEO of Microsoft partner eMazzanti Technologies, also said he's seeing strong demand for Windows 8, citing backlogged orders through distributors for Windows 8-based computers. "The inbound calls have been solid and a bright spot in what has been a water logged two weeks," said Mazzanti, whose company is based in Hoboken, N.J., which was hard-hit by Hurricane Sandy. "Our pipeline has never been better."
Kristin Bent, Steve Burke and Kevin McLaughlin contributed to this story.
PUBLISHED NOV. 13, 2012