It'd be easy to look at the organizational shift atop the Windows Phone division today and attribute it to lower-than-expected device sales.
It's true that Windows Phone has barely made a dent in the smartphone marketplace, capturing just, according to Gartner. Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer acknowledged during Microsoft's financial analyst meeting in September that the company hasn't sold "quite as many [Windows Phone devices] probably as I would have hoped."
But former Windows Phone boss Andy Lees' new, vaguely described job seems to suggest something bigger is afoot. It may well be that Microsoft is ramping up efforts to unify its various Windows platforms.
Ballmer sent a note to company employees today that Lees, who had run Microsoft's phone business for more than three years, would be replaced by Terry Myerson, the corporate vice president who oversaw the Windows Mobile engineering operations. But Ballmer was oblique about Lees next step.
"I have asked Andy Lees to move to a new role working for me on a time-critical opportunity focused on driving maximum impact in 2012 with Windows Phone and Windows 8," Ballmer wrote in the note. "We have tremendous potential with Windows Phone and Windows 8, and this move sets us up to really deliver against that potential."
There have been times when Microsoft executives have been given vaguely defined roles reporting to Ballmer, only to leave the company as the spotlight from the news of the new role faded. And that could well be Lees' fate. But the way Ballmer described Lees' new responsibilities jibes with other bits of information regarding Microsoft's efforts to bring its various flavors of Windows together.
Veteran Microsoft watcher Mary Jo Foley noted in her ZDNet blog last month that Microsoft may well be looking into swapping the kernel of the Windows Phone operating system--called the Windows Embedded Compact code--with Windows 8. It's unlikely, Foley notes, that Microsoft would put all of Windows 8 into a phone. But the company may be looking into using parts of the flagship operating system into the next version of Windows Phone, which goes by the codename Apollo and is expected to debut next year.
The rationale is that it would make it easier for developers to write programs for the variety of devices running Windows technology. It's not that Microsoft would want customers to run the same applications on their phones as they do on PCs. Rather, Microsoft wants the development environment to be similar among all its platforms. That way, developers can reuse code as they create applications tailored for each device.
Microsoft isn't offering any details regarding Lees' new gig. But with Windows 8 slated to debut next year, as well as Apollo, working to bring the code bases closer together may well be the "time-critical opportunity" that Ballmer has in mind for Lees.