Did Sinofsky keep the Microsoft Office team in the dark?

For all the great things happening for Microsoft these past few weeks, common sense would indicate that a situation would likely arise, equaling or overshadowing those great things. That situation can only be the sudden (or, to be fair, immediate) departure of one of the most influential figures in the company’s current structure, Steve Sinofsky.

While we can all speculate on why he left, from the funny to the serious, Reuters has reported on the one constant surrounding the situation: the common noise being sounded from Microsoft and it's former employees. That noise is that Sinofsky was a man that worked within the boundaries of his own team and didn’t work well with others outside of his own "Windows walls."

The man was secretive, but what does that matter? We all keep our work personal, whether out of love or self-preservation, but the latest talk from former colleagues and anonymous or unnamed Redmond sources suggest that he was so secretive that he wouldn’t share the latest internal test builds of Windows 8 and kept the Surface hardware secret from the Office team until just before its announcement. This vexed the Office team in particular. It this secrecy that, insiders say, is the reason for the lack of a fully featured Office Suite on the Surface RT tablet.

Brad Silverberg, the man who was in charge of Windows during its massive growth in the 90s, commented on Sinofsky's work ethic, which was often referred to as "Sinofskyization."

Steven is a brilliant guy who made tremendous contributions to Microsoft. But he was also a polarizing guy and the antibodies ultimately caught up with him.

Sinofsky may have been brilliant at what he did, but it seems he alienated all other groups in the Microsoft camp, especially the Office Division. You have to wonder why he would alienate the Office team, not just because it’s another big money maker for Microsoft, but because Sinofsky was the man who oversaw the development of Office 2007 and its ribbon UI before taking charge of the Windows Division in July 2009.

So, as it stands, it seems that Steve Ballmer wants Microsoft to be more open within its own walls, as former employees and colleagues have commented:

All good leaders create friction, but my guess is the cost of doing business with Sinofsky ended up outweighing the benefits.

If you work in Steven's team, you love him. If he [was] outside of your team? That's where his reputation of being hard to work with came from.

So while Sinofsky was responsible for the Windows Division through its most success period in recent years with Windows 7, it was his secrecy and unwillingness to work well with others that ultimately cost him his job, according to Microsoft insiders.

Source: Reuters | Image courtesy of microsoft-news.com

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24 Comments

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It is no secret that many reporters are joyously celebrating the fact that Sinofsky is no longer at MS. I think we all need to look at the motivation for the populist articles being written.

Plain fact is that if Sinofsky was as secretive (protective) and and down right cold and harsh to reporters and bloggers as stated it stands to reason that they will now kick the man while he is down. He directly attacked them, their ability to earn a crust and they way in which they earned it.

I for one think he did the right thing by ensuring MS took more control of the information distribution as MS. Perhaps he went to far, perhaps not either way its better to be in control than have an open house. People were amazed that MS kept surface so secret. No way that could have happened without a near maniacal control ethic.

It takes a very harsh character to change things dramatically and like him or loathe him he delivered time and time again and anyone (Paul Thurrott) who says what he did was easy ("fixing Vista") are not be qualified to stand in his shoes and make such statements.

What he did with the worlds largest software company was for most downright impossible.

Was he going to be a good CEO? Don't know but I doubt anyone else now has the depth to step into Mr Ballmers shoes.

I am very mixed on Sinofsky. I have heard that he was resistant to external influence, and he was hard to get a long with... However I can completely agree with that on some levels.

He was a control freak, however some of that resulted in a lot of innovation when it appeared that MS was stagnating.... MS kinda needed a shakeup, He was the guy to do it. You can't have a shakeup without a little friction, it's how you deal with the friction is what really matters. Coming out of a slump takes a lot of edge and especially when it involves other people, there are gonna be a some that don't like it but they have to go along with it in order to progress.

I am the Sinofsky of my whole family. I keep em in control, in check, and I want to make sure that every aspect of thier lives is smooth, yes, I come across as a bitch sometimes, however it's for everyone's good in the household. It's been working quite well though. Things go smoother if we have plans for everything and we know instantly what to do in a given situation. Sometimes little wars happen, but the outcome is way better. If I let all hell break loose and stuff just "go with the flow" it never works right and things get harder to fix.... you gotta keep on top of things.

Microsoft was sorta letting themselves go... one easy way to tell was thier websites.... every single division's page looked completely different and often confused people, this unification is making it easier on others by making it easier to navigate, and easier to manage. This direction definitely helped, as their sites are easier to navigate and find what you need and feel less overwhelming and stressful. it might have been a stressful process getting it all up and running, however the end result is much more rewarding then sitting and doing nothing. Windows is going to become the same. less stress for people. I do admit that windows 8 wasn't the best way to please everyone, but that's impossible to do. I hope that they can approach a happy medium, however that's hard to do as well.

we sorta need more people like Sinofsky to get people moving.

What gets me though is, and I didn't put this in the article as it's more my opinion than fact (although could probably factually correct too), but has Windows 8 not had the most transparent Windows OS development cycle, from a public perspective? Look at the 600+ blogs that were published around the improvements to the OS (bootup/shutdown speeds, interface, user experience, giving away Samsung Slate hardware with the dev preview on it to show the capabilities over a year ago, etc).

Had the pleasure of meeting Sinofsky a few years back prior to ipad availability - have to say he was one smart cookie, who had no illusions of it's impending success and oem shortcomings. Surface and secrecy were bound to follow.

Graveyards are full of irreplaceable people though - his job at Ms will have depended upon grooming his replacement, so they will be there. MS Dev groups move on loooooong before the code hits the unwashed public, the replacements will already be in situ and doing what needs to be done.

We all know Games for Windows is a mess and Xbox is doing well but look what happened to Windows 8.

Nothing changed, that was the perfect opportunity to fix things with gaming on Windows. That could perhaps be because it was the Windows team versus Xbox team. We will take avatars and gamertag systems but don't care about any other integration. Just keep Games for Windows Live running, Xbox team, ugh serious? Windows team, who cares.

How many years has it been since they gave a damn with GFWL. It's a joke.

Perhaps his reasons for secrecy were drawn from the experiences of previous Windows cycles, when there were so many leaks almost everyone with an Internet connection knew what 90% of a build (beta, alpha, etc) would contain before a public release. If leaks from Surface came out would it have had as big of an impact as it did last summer?

On one hand, it was unfortunate that level of stonewalling prevented a fully touch-friendly Office from materializing on Windows RT, and only served to further the level of disconnect between the Office and Windows teams. On the other hand, as Office isn't under his direct command perhaps Sinofsky thought someone in the Office team would (un)intentionally spill the beans regarding the details of Surface.

Denis W said,
On the other hand, as Office isn't under his direct command perhaps Sinofsky thought someone in the Office team would (un)intentionally spill the beans regarding the details of Surface.

Actually, even the Windows team was kept in the dark about Surface. Only a small number of people outside the Surface team knew about it. They didn't want the Surface team to be treated any differently from any other OEM.

This sounds about right, in the past when MS was under scrutiny for all those years for anti-trust blah blah and their products had to remain seperate Sinofsky was probably king but now that has all passed by and MS is already seen to be making huge strides in to integrating their poducts together neatly Sinofsky is a barrier. He was probably given the chance to play nice with others but didn't so they got rid of him. Hopefully this will mean a more integrated and better product range from MS in the very near future

ctrl_alt_delete said,

regardless its still all speculation.

When I heard about Sinofsky leaving MS I had an inkling it was a loss for MS. This plus one other article (which I will post a link to when I find it) tends to indicate that this may very well be the case. Have a look and see what you think of someone who posted what actually be closer to the truth than the popular commentary coming out currently. http://microsoft-news.com/steven-sinofsky-defended/

I don't believe what this article is trying to say because it doesn't add up or quite frankly, it doesn't make sense. if it was his "unwillingness to work with others" that cost him his job then that doesn't explain why it was "effective immediately".

ctrl_alt_delete said,
I don't believe what this article is trying to say because it doesn't add up or quite frankly, it doesn't make sense. if it was his "unwillingness to work with others" that cost him his job then that doesn't explain why it was "effective immediately".

"Effective immediately" doesn't mean something hadn't been in the planning stages for a while. They may have been considering a split for months -- and many articles are indicating they were -- but Sinofsky wanted to be gone by the time it was announced (or Microsoft wanted him gone).

How so? What you suggest makes less sense.

This is likely a build up of 2+ years of other teams having problems with the Windows division. Issues that like do in fact add up over time. Its possible the decision regarding this was decided 6+ months ago, but the players involved didn't want to change projects leads mid-project. It may have been a mutual decision between Sinofsky and others in Microsoft as well long before the Windows 8 project wrapped up.

Sinofsky could have made a compelling case to wait until the project completed as well. Considering how many years this man has lead project groups, it would have been worse for the release time table of Windows 8 to change leads so close the end. I seriously doubt he would have wanted to quit in the final stretch of a project.

So timing wise it makes perfect sense. The project cycle is mostly back into the concept and design stages now. The project dog and pony show hit its finale with general availability.

Kaedrin said,
How so? What you suggest makes less sense.

What he said makes a lot of sense. Changes like this take time to execute. Whether it is a simple reorg or a full on removal of an executive, they rarely happen quickly. They need to plan for the continuity of business and a quick firing will cause a massive disruption. His replacements knew this was coming for some time.

Also, don't forget that most execs have a golden parachute (fat contract) with clauses that kick in depending on who initiates their exit. Some proposed firings often turn into a trip to "special projects" or a severly lighter workload where the exec is put out to pasture.

[quote=zeke009 said,]
What he said makes a lot of sense. Changes like this take time to execute. Whether it is a simple reorg or a full on removal of an executive, they rarely happen quickly. /quote]

In a way I had pointed that out. Absolutly no one who knows anything about it has really said anything. We have no idea how long this was planned for, or if it actually was unexpected to either of the two parties.

Just because the rank and file at Microsoft, and outsiders, didn't know it was coming means nothing.

IMHO, Microsoft should give Windows RT for free (or for a very small fee) and sell Office for a profit (also to profit via the Store), it would have killed Android in a couple of years. However, Microsoft is selling Windows RT to OEM and giving Office for free so, most OEM aren't willing (or giving the best) to abandon the (free or cheap) Android and jump over Windows RT mainly because the MS-tax.

For OEM viewpoint:
Android : overcrowded market, free (without Google Play) or cheap (with Google Play), certification is a snap and it is allowed to preinstall different applications (including an own Store). Drivers mustn't be approved by Google.
Windows RT:"new waters", license cost, restriction in design, specifications and preinstalled applications, drivers should be approved by MS.

Brony said,
IMHO, Microsoft should give Windows RT for free (or for a very small fee) and sell Office for a profit (also to profit via the Store), it would have killed Android in a couple of years. However, Microsoft is selling Windows RT to OEM and giving Office for free so, most OEM aren't willing (or giving the best) to abandon the (free or cheap) Android and jump over Windows RT mainly because the MS-tax.

For OEM viewpoint:
Android : overcrowded market, free (without Google Play) or cheap (with Google Play), certification is a snap and it is allowed to preinstall different applications (including an own Store). Drivers mustn't be approved by Google.
Windows RT:"new waters", license cost, restriction in design, specifications and preinstalled applications, drivers should be approved by MS.

giving windows RT for free would put Microsoft in jeopardy (as google would surely cry foul). they would be charged for dumping WINDOWS on the market and this would surely carry a heavy fine with it. so charging license cost is THE better way to go here.

the license cost for Microsoft's software is also for indemnification from patent lawsuits from other companies. therefore you can't be help accountable for using software from Microsoft. just like how many of these companies end up in court for using android OS (and lost). you fail to see that OEMs also PAY Microsoft a license fee for using certain Microsoft technologies in android. So OEMs end up paying Google AND Microsoft.

I'm more towards the windows RT side of things because it's more structured and customer friendly. "drivers should be approved" by Microsoft? YES, why not? please remember that the drivers will be distributed through windows update and OEMS won't have to build their own mechanism to distribute drivers or tell customers to go download it themselves.