Shocked by exit of Microsoft's Sinofsky? You shouldn't be

Sinofsky battled with executives, alienated workers in groups outside his Windows empire, and created a toxic environment, according to sources. His departure shouldn't surprise anyone.

Jay Greene Former Staff Writer
Jay Greene, a CNET senior writer, works from Seattle and focuses on investigations and analysis. He's a former Seattle bureau chief for BusinessWeek and author of the book "Design Is How It Works: How the Smartest Companies Turn Products into Icons" (Penguin/Portfolio).
Jay Greene
2 min read
Steven Sinofsky talks up Microsoft's Surface tablet at the company's unveiling event in New York. Seth Rosenblatt/CNET

Anyone who is surprised by Steven Sinofsky's departure as Windows boss at Microsoft wasn't paying attention.

As I wrote in a profile of Sinofsky last month, the now-former Windows boss had been sparring with other Microsoft executives, including Chief Executive Steve Ballmer. Sources said at the time that the company's senior leadership was increasingly concerned about Sinofsky's inability to work across divisions at Microsoft.

Working with other groups is becoming more and more crucial for Microsoft, as it weaves its consumer offerings together. The company is racing to make Windows work well with Windows Phone and Xbox. Hindering that effort could stymie Microsoft's effort to take on rival's Apple and Google, which are also blending their consumer offerings.

Microsoft didn't make either Ballmer or Sinofsky available for comment tonight. But in a note to the Windows group announcing Sinofsky's departure, Ballmer went out of his way to underscore the ability of the new Windows boss, Julie Larson-Green, to work well with others.

"Her unique product and innovation perspective and proven ability to effectively collaborate and drive a cross company agenda will serve us well as she takes on this new leadership role," Ballmer wrote.

Sinofsky clearly had his skills. He is an immensely intelligent executive. And he turned around the Windows division, which was foundering when he took it over in 2006, suffering from the disastrous development and release of Windows Vista. He brought a discipline to his two Windows releases, each one something of a moon shot that requires getting thousands of software engineers, testers, and product managers working in unison toward the same goal.

But Sinofsky may well have picked the wrong fight. His ability to ship quality products on time appears to have been trumped by the toxic environment he created. In last month's profile, I quoted Charlie Kindel, a 21-year Microsoft veteran, who said Sinofsky made it harder for the Windows Phone division to work closely with the Windows group.

"It represents a siloed perspective," Kindel said. "It represents an us versus them perspective."

Warring groups, once a staple of the Microsoft culture, can't continue for the company to compete in consumer technology. With Sinofsky's frequent battles with internal rivals, his departure was more a matter of when than if.