Recently, we posted an editorial called A World without Windows that took a look at the PC and mobile alternatives to Windows 8. Little did we know that the Windows division would soon have to deal with the fact that it would be without its leader for the past several years, Steven Sinofsky.
The rather abrupt and unexpected nature of Sinofsky's departure late on Monday, less than a month after the official launch of Windows 8, is now the stuff of rumors and speculations. The consensus is that Sinofsky could not get along with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.
However, that doesn't really explain why Sinofsky was so quick to leave, rather than Microsoft choosing to perhaps ease in the transition by letting Sinofsky stay on until, say, the end of 2012.. Microsoft also made the announcement of Sinofsky leaving the company late on Monday evening, well after the normal news announcement cycle. That's usually a big clue that the decision was done very quickly and was not part of a planned smooth exit.
So the big question for Microsoft is, "Now what?" The company has already revealed that well known Windows team member Julie Larson-Green will take on most of Sinofsky's duties. We do know, based on previous interviews, that Larson-Green believes the touch screen UI is the way to go for the Windows user interface and that's not likely to change anytime soon.
Larson-Green will likely follow much of what Sinofsky had likely planned out for the future of Windows for the next few months, as well as for future hardware products. However, it should not be long before she puts her own ideas for the future of Windows into development that could differ from what Sinofsky had planned. Windows 9 is likely still very early in development and Larson-Green has plenty of time to make the OS her own, much like Sinofsky did with Windows 7 and Windows 8.
You can bet that the "Modern" touch screen UI will be improved for Windows 9 under Larson-Greeen. The big question: Will she decide to ditch the more open desktop UI for Windows 9 or continue to offer it for developers who don't want to bother with the new touch screen interface? Our guess is that the desktop will be done away with for the next version of Windows if Windows 8 is a success. If it is not, the desktop may be sticking around for a while longer.
Larson-Greene will also likely lead the Windows division in making more hardware products, including the rumored gaming-themed Xbox Surface tablet and Microsoft's own home grown Windows Phone. Again, some of these plans were likely started by Sinofsky but now they will have Larson-Greene's own touches.
And what about Microsoft as a whole? Ballmer is still running things and there's no indication he plans to leave anytime soon. Any bets that were made on Sinofsky becoming the new CEO are out the window. Ballmer is well and truly in charge of Microsoft and, barring a health scare, it would seem that will be the case for a long time. That could be both good or bad news, depending on how you feel Ballmer has lead Microsoft so far.
And finally, what about Sinofsky? It's a safe bet that his contract with Microsoft has some non-compete clauses and that likely means he won't be joining, for example, Apple or Google in the near future. We suspect that Sinofsky will take some time off before making the next move in his career. You can bet a lot of companies, both inside and outside the technology industry, would be eager to snap him up. Or, he could launch his own startup with his well earned Microsoft salary and stock options.
Our fantasy scenario? After taking a year off, Sinofsky joins Valve and helps to launch their Steam game console system. Yes, Valve co-founder Gabe Newell predicted that Windows 8 would be a "catastrophe" for the PC industry, but both he and Sinofsky are now former Microsoft employees who worked on versions of Windows. They might have more in common than even they might think.