The abrupt departure of Windows and Windows Live President Steven Sinofsky this evening has surprised many in the Microsoft community considering that he's hot off the launch of Windows 8 and Surface, two of Redmond's most important products in the last decade. There had been persistent rumblings that the man who oversaw the launch of Windows 8 was in line for a larger role in the company, perhaps even as the heir to CEO Steve Ballmer. However, multiple sources within Microsoft describe Sinofsky as abrasive and off-putting, aggressively maintaining his control over products and putting up roadblocks for products that would have any potential to diminish the Windows (and therefore his) power — an attitude rumored to be shared by Apple's recently-deposed iOS chief Scott Forstall.
Sinofsky's future path as an executive at Microsoft was essentially at an end
Critically, Sinofsky was not ousted because of any issues with the launch of Windows 8 or the Surface, sources tell us; in fact, it's possible that his departure was already planned, but his ability to execute on Windows 8's retail release was seen as an asset worth keeping him around long enough to see it through. But his attitude (and skill set) as an aggressive, tightly-siloed Windows boss — not a holistic Microsoft boss — may have done him in. Given that the future of Microsoft's ecosystem would require tight collaboration between disparate divisions, Sinofsky's future path as an executive at Microsoft was essentially at an end.
Microsoft's Larry Lieberman recently referenced a famous comic of the company's organizational structure, depicting different departments as isolated fiefdoms holding guns at one another, admitting that there's "a little bit" of truth to it. Products like Windows Phone 8, Xbox Music, SmartGlass, Windows RT, and Surface clearly need to break out of that mentality, and people familiar with the matter say that Sinofsky simply wasn't that kind of team player — he was laser-focused on Windows and Surface with seemingly little regard for the remainder of Microsoft's kingdom.
That Sinofsky hasn't meshed well with other teams within Microsoft is no surprise — sources tell The Verge that as far back as the scuttled Courier tablet project, he was seen as a divisive force inside the company that creative forces like J Allard grew unwilling to work with.
Our sources have stopped short of calling Sinofsky's departure an outright firing, but it seems that there are few inside Microsoft's senior ranks that are sorry to see him go.
Chris Ziegler contributed to this report.