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Windows head Steven Sinofsky leaves Microsoft

Steven Sinofsky

By Reuters

Posted on 13 Nov 2012 at 08:35

The executive most widely tipped to be the next chief executive of Microsoft has left barely two weeks after launching Windows 8, as CEO Steve Ballmer moved to tighten his grip on the company.

The exit of 23-year veteran Steven Sinofsky, head of Microsoft's Windows unit, is the latest - and most prominent - in a line of high-profile departures from Microsoft. It comes hard on the heels of Sinofsky unveiling Windows 8, the most radical revamp of Windows since 1995.

The move was unexpected and neither Microsoft nor Sinofsky gave an explanation, although an executive at the company, who asked not to be named, said the decision was "mutual" and said he was not expecting Sinofsky to take a job at another company soon.

"This is shocking news. This is very surprising," said Brendan Barnicle, an analyst at Pacific Crest Securities. "Like a lot of people, I thought Sinofsky was in line to potentially be Ballmer's successor."

Sinofsky, 47, joined Microsoft in 1989 and made his mark as Bill Gates' technical assistant. He grew into an uncompromising leader whose ruthless style of cutting layers of management and formalising the process of software development gave rise to the term "Sinofskyisation" in the company.

He wielded immense power as head of the Windows unit, the traditional center of Microsoft's business, but was not known for working well with other executives.

Like a lot of people, I thought Sinofsky was in line to potentially be Ballmer's successor

One former Microsoft staffer who worked with Sinofsky and other executives said his relentlessly aggressive style exasperated other leaders and may have alienated too many people, including his mentor Gates. "He had no one left to fight for him," said the staffer, who asked not to be named. "Gates gave him cover, so he must have eventually caved."

Sinofsky himself shed no light on his exit. "It is impossible to count the blessings I have received over my years at Microsoft," he said in a statement. "I am humbled by the professionalism and generosity of everyone I have had the good fortune to work with at this awesome company."

He did not announce any plans to take a job elsewhere.

Sinofsky will be succeeded by Julie Larson-Green, who will head the Windows hardware and software division, and Tami Reller, who will remain chief financial officer of the Windows unit. Together, they will report directly to Ballmer.

Leadership style

Ballmer, 56, shows no sign of leaving after almost 13 years in the job, despite almost constant criticism. He has now replaced all the leaders of Microsoft's five main operating units in the past four years.

He told employees in a memo on Monday simply that: "Steven Sinofsky has decided to leave the company."

In a later media statement, he added that it was "imperative that we continue to drive alignment across all Microsoft teams, and have more integrated and rapid development cycles for our offerings".

Sinofsky had a stellar career at Microsoft, overhauling the hugely profitable Office division before going over to manage the release of Windows 7 in 2009. That was regarded as a success and Sinofsky was then tasked with overseeing Windows 8. At the same time, Sinofsky led the development of Microsoft's Surface tablet.

Analysts said it may be too early to judge whether Windows 8 and the Surface have been a success, but Sinofsky's departure could have been tied to his abrasive management and ambition for the top job.

Sinofsky forfeited some of his bonus this year due to falling sales of Windows and Microsoft's embarrassing failure to comply with an agreement with European regulators to allow users a choice of browsers, which could cost the company millions of dollars in fines.

Apple option?

Sinofsky's departure comes two weeks after rival Apple shook up its own top management, forcing out mobile head Scott Forstall and retail chief John Browett.

One analyst cited talk that the moves might be related. "Some are speculating that the availability on the market of Forstall might have something to do with Sinofsky's departure," said Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi. "I doubt we will have to wait long to know if this is the case."

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User comments

"as CEO Steve Ballmer moved to tighten his grip on the company"

Oh dear.

By Alfresco on 13 Nov 2012


This can't be a bad thing.

Windows 8 is an absolute disaster and Office 2013 isn't much better.

Microsoft need young fresh blood with fresh creative talent to put those flagship products back on the map instead of reinvention for reinvention's sake.

By daveclough on 13 Nov 2012


Windows 8 is brilliant (as a veteran Windows user that started with Windows 2) and having used Office 2013 preview, I miss some of the features, when using Office 2010 at work.

Office 2013 is a refinement over 2010, not a major leap forward, but there are some niceties about it.

By big_D on 13 Nov 2012

Reinvention is all we have left

I'm unable to think of anything truly groundbreaking that ANY tech company has brought us in the last decade, if not longer.

By dubiou on 13 Nov 2012


Totally agree, Windows 8 is brilliant.

Still think this might be a bad move, i think he had a great vision for Windows. Just hope it does not go down hill from here.

By henry20012 on 13 Nov 2012

The last act in the Microsoft tragedy

I have long predicted (earlier comments) that Windows 8 would hasten Microsoft's demise and that we are seeing history in the making.

This - whilst entirely unrelated to the Windows 8 debacle (yeah, right !) - is another nail in the coffin this once dominant company.

By deaglecat on 13 Nov 2012

Not surprising

After the lukewarm response that W8 received is anyone really surprised he has gone?

Let's hope the new guy can fix the UI mess of W8 to make it more appealing to the desktop/laptop users before the next quarters results come out.

By JohnSheridan on 13 Nov 2012


The reason is not becuase of Windows 8, he was sitting in the audience at BUILD, which suggests that he was already going to leave the company.

By henry20012 on 13 Nov 2012

Good riddance

It's just a shame he didn't take Windows 8 and its annoying tablet UI kludge with him when he left.

By davek99 on 13 Nov 2012


>> Totally agree, Windows 8 is brilliant.

Based on what? A new task manager and childish appearance?

By daveclough on 13 Nov 2012

Nowhere to hide now, Ballmer

Sinofsky's departure gives Steve Ballmer one fewer senior exec to hide his incompetence behind. Hopefully this will accelerate Ballmer's own departure from MS and allow them to get some decent leadership in.

By KSull on 13 Nov 2012

My personal prediction; Steam will hire Sinofsky, I don't now why I think that. It just seem that thinks are happening there.

By PhilGQ on 14 Nov 2012

My personal prediction; Steam will hire Sinofsky, I don't now why I think that. It just seem that thinks are happening there.

By PhilGQ on 14 Nov 2012

My personal prediction; Steam will hire Sinofsky, I don't now why I think that. It just seem that thinks are happening there.

By PhilGQ on 14 Nov 2012

Shake and Vac

His work on Office was pre Windows 7 and helped make positive changes. He was then moved over to prevent Windows 7 going the way of Vista.

His development of Win 8 in conjunction with Surface makes absolute sense as the two are a match made in user heaven.

The big fail in Windows 8 to deletee Start Menu code is unlikely to have been his decision and has the Barmy aroma of Mr Ballmer stamped all over it.

His loss to Microsoft I suspect will be huge, and I would not be at all surprised to see him move to and gain deep success at any number of top firms, from Apple through to the other Linux Distros, Android or Google.

By Gindylow on 15 Nov 2012

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