Steven Sinofsky, head of Windows operating system, has packed up the knick-knacks he had accumulated on his desk over the nearly 25 years he had worked at Microsoft and left its offices for the last time.
The departure of such a big-time exec, announced late Monday, is big news, considering it happened just weeks after the release of Windows 8,
Unfortunately, the company hasn't exactly been transparent about the decisions (mutual or otherwise) that led to the move. Sure, Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer wrote that "Sinofsky has decided to leave the company," but didn't say much more. So what was the real reason Sinofsky left?
That was the question tech reporters had Tuesday. Some dusted off Rolodexes and called up sources at Microsoft to figure it out. Others just openly speculated. In either case, here are five theories put forward to explain Sinofsky's departure:
One source who spoke with Business Insider said Sinofsky left Microsoft because he had ambitions loftier than the company could accommodate. "Sinofsky felt that he deserved to be Microsoft's next CEO, and wanted to be designated as Steve Ballmer's successor after Windows 8 shipped,"Thomas Owen writes for Business Insider. Of course, Microsoft couldn't make such a promise so far in advance, since the company's current CEO, Steve Ballmer, had told colleagues he will stay until 2017 or 2018, another source told Business Insider earlier this year.
That haughty demand -- "promise that I'll be CEO someday or I'll quit" -- hints at Sinofsky's prickly nature and how he allegedly sparred with others in the company to protect his grip on the Windows franchise, sources told reporters. "Sinofsky is known inside and outside the company as a guy who got things done and done his way," ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley writes. Foley believes this to be the strongest reason for Sinofsky's departure, and AllThingsD's Kara Swisher agrees. Windows needed a more collaborative leader willing to work with other execs within the company, especially as integration with Xbox and Microsoft websites like Bing became more crucial. "This more collegial cross-division effort was different from the closely held, command-and-control and even secretive method for which Sinofsky had been well-known throughout the company," Swisher says. "In fact, numerous sources said, it was anathema to him."
Prickly or not, Sinofsky might just be leaving because Microsoft made a hard-nosed business decision. Maybe, the speculation goes, Windows 8 or Surface, which Sinofsky oversaw, weren't selling. CEO Steve Ballmer said soon before SInofsky's departure was announced that the Surface tablet was selling "modestly." While exact sales figures for either product haven't been made public, there's some indication that Sinofsky's performance was slipping. The New York Times' Nick Wingfield sums up the numbers thus: In an internal review of his job performance last year, Mr. Sinofsky was faulted for failing to make sure that Microsoft lived up to a 2009 agreement with European regulators to offer users an easy way to install competitive Web browsers in Windows, according to a filing with securities regulators. Mr. Sinofsky was also faulted for a 3 percent decline in the revenue of Microsoft’s Windows business, long one of its most profitable divisions and the foundation for its strength in the personal computing market. As a result, Mr. Sinofsky received 60 percent of the bonus he was eligible to receive last year.
What a coup that would be for Microsoft! Scott Forstall, former head of Apple's mobile operating system, left Cupertino in October after the launch of iOS 6. Many have drawn parallels to timing and handling of Sinofsky's exit, on the heels on the Windows 8 and Surface releases. Writing for the Seattle Times, Microsoft watcher Brier Dudley speculates that maybe, just maybe, Forstall could be moving on to Microsoft: Could Microsoft be hiring Scott Forstall, the ousted head of mobile software development at Apple? Forstall is a local guy who interned at Microsoft and has family in this area. If he was hired by Microsoft, he'd take a top spot and carve out some of Sinofsky's turf.
In a memo written to Windows staffers, Sinofsky gave his own reasons for leaving. Here's the thrust of what Sinofsky wrote, printed by Forbes on Monday night: After more than 23 years working on a wide range of Microsoft products, I have decided to leave the company to seek new opportunities that build on these experiences. My passion for building products is as strong as ever and I look forward focusing my energy and creativity along similar lines. [Emphasis added.] The real question is, however, does anyone buy into this reason?