Now that Steven Sinofsky has left Microsoft as President of the Windows division, the question now comes down to what happened and the implications his departure means for the company.
Microsoft issue a statement today that Sinofsky and CEO Steve Ballmer mutually agreed to the departure. My bet: Sinofsky does not fit with the company in the aftermath of the Windows 8 launch. He did okay with the development of Windows 8 and Microsoft Surface. But by no means did it cement his place as the successor to Ballmer as CEO.
Further, Sinofsky could be alienating. He was also a bit of an outsider among the executive ranks. He had his supporters for his management style but there were detractors whose comments reflect on what Ballmer said in prepared statements today about Sinofsky leaving.
Here’s what one commenter said on Hacker News:
He was a big fan of the triad- Dev, Test & PM (product management), at every level. From what I experienced, at every level you’d have to get sign-off from all 3 for any features to be implemented. That, combined with Microsoft’s incredibly deep org structure created a massive number of ‘committees’ to go through to get signoff for any work to be done.
He was also one to dictate things from up above and it was extremely difficult to understand the reasoning behind them or offer any form of disagreement. Anyone who didn’t follow exactly what he wanted, was out.
So basically you’d have committees of 3′s (Dev, Test, PM) filtering and relaying every decision. The people who could work the politics would get promoted and the people who understood the details would get frustrated by the top-down ambiguity and falter or leave.
So was Sinofsky just too abrasive and austere? Another commenter on Hacker News said this about his time at Microsoft:
He was always polarizing and that his stock was rising is equally contentious, IMO. Windows 8 was late, Surface seems to be underwhelming and his inability to be a real team player are all likely factors here, as is his rumored disagreement with Ballmer (though I had Ballmer on the losing end of that one)…..
Personally, Sinofsky was one of the biggest reasons I left Microsoft. He was willing to ditch potentially game-changing products/features spanning multiple industries because it didn’t align with his idea of software engineering, which was more suited for boxed software like Office than for rapidly deploying services. He didn’t/doesn’t get services – he’s a boxed software guy at his core. All the Office Live stuff happened after he left Office – arguably he should have seen it coming and been ahead of the game while he was running Office.
These comments are interesting in context of what Ballmer himself said today about the need for better development practices at the company. He said it is “imperative that we continue to drive alignment across all Microsoft teams, and have more integrated and rapid development cycles for our offerings.”
Julie Larson-Green will now lead the Windows engineering group. Ballmer cited skills in her that Sinofsky does not seem to have as much of a strength for:
“Leading Windows engineering is an incredible challenge and opportunity, and as I looked at the technical and business skills required to continue our Windows trajectory — great communication skills, a proven ability to work across product groups, strong design, deep technical expertise, and a history of anticipating and meeting customer needs — it was clear to me that Julie is the best possible person for this job, and I’m excited to have her in this role,” Ballmer said.
The near-term implications for Sinofsky’s departure are not that significant. It’s more about what Sinofsky’s leaving means for the executive direction of Microsoft and the health of the overall organization and its culture.
Ray Wang of Constellation Research said to me tonight that Microsoft has a deep bench. Windows 8 launched and now it’s a matter of rolling it out along with the Microsoft Surface. The company has plenty of people who are more than qualified to do that work.
But at the executive level, there are few people who can replace Sinofsky. As much as he was alienating, he also had his own cult following at Microsoft. He in many respects put Microsoft back on the map with the Surface product. Replacing him won’t be easy.
(Feature image courtesy of Microsoft)
You know it’s more than just another rumor when it keeps coming back, over and over again. If Microsoft built the Surface, its first PC, a tablet and laptop combo, why can’t it build its own smartphone? The latest episode suggests the company is currently working with component suppliers in Asia to test its own smartphone design, according to “people familiar with the situation” cited by The Wall Street Journal.
These sources are saying that while Microsoft is currently trying out its ideas, it still isn’t sure if a product will go into mass production. One person reportedly said that the screen of Microsoft’s mythical smartphone measures between four and five inches (what a shocker!). Other details are unknown.
The rest of the article is full of talk about what Microsoft building its own smartphone could mean, as well as full of denials from Microsoft. A spokesman declined to comment, and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer also wasn’t particularly helpful in his statement to the WSJ:
We’re quite happy this holiday [season] going to market hard with Nokia, NOK1V.HE +4.23% Samsung and HTC. Whether we had a plan to do something different or we didn’t have a plan I wouldn’t comment in any dimension.
In other words, if Ballmer is planning on pushing out a Surface phone, or something similar, he’s not going to announce it until he’s ready. Until then, he will keep pointing to companies that are making smartphones by Microsoft’s Windows Phone. The latest numbers show that Microsoft’s mobile operating system managed to grab just 2.0 percent of the market last quarter.
Back in June, an analyst suggested that Microsoft was working on its own phone, due to come out with Windows Phone 8. Obviously that didn’t happen: WP8′s release came and went. In fact, we explained exactly why this didn’t make sense: Microsoft to build a Windows Phone handset? No, that’s not very likely, Mr. Analyst.
Yet earlier last month, the ‘Microsoft is building its own Windows phone’ rumor came back. Three separate websites (BGR, ZDNet, and WPCentral) said it was happening, and we wrote Microsoft building a Windows phone? Redmond could take on Cupertino directly in 2013.
Last week, Ballmer told the BBC: “Is it fair to say we’re going to do more hardware? Obviously we are… Where we see important opportunities to set a new standard, yeah we’ll dive in.”
Again, this is still neatly placed in the rumor box. Still, it’s a rumor with multiple sources, multiple angles, and multiple claims. Microsoft is definitely up to something.
Image credit: poooow
Today, Microsoft announced a shakeup on the board side of the company by announcing that Reed Hastings will not be seeking re-election for the seat he currently holds.
Here’s what Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO, had to say about the noteworthy departure:
Reed has been a terrific board member, and his insights and experience have really helped guide us through a critical period of transformation for both Microsoft and the industry.
To say that Hastings is a busy person is an understatement. He currently sits on the boards of Netflix, Facebook, and DreamBox Learning. Oh, he’s also the CEO of Netflix. Regarding leaving Microsoft’s board, here’s what Hastings had to say:
I’m thrilled to have served on the board at such a pivotal time for Microsoft, including the development of Windows 8, Windows RT and Microsoft Surface, which will bring exciting new opportunities for customers and the industry as a whole. I’ve decided to reduce the number of boards I serve on, so that I can focus on Netflix and on my education work.
Since joining Microsoft’s board in 2007, Hastings has brought a fresh perspective to the company that is trying extremely hard to become relevant in the consumer space again. As Hastings noted, the Surface could assist with that.
Should we see this departure as a bad thing or simply take Hastings at his word? It’s difficult not to wonder that, if the Surface was so exciting, why not stick around for it, especially if Netflix could play a part in Microsoft’s media play? Hard to tell, since I certainly don’t hold nearly the responsibility that Hastings does on a daily basis, and don’t know how he does it.
Some of the board members that are seeking re-election include Bill Gates, the current Microsoft Chairman, Ballmer, and former CFO, Dina Dublon.
[Photo credit: Flickr]
You might have missed it, but Microsoft in the process of fundamentally changing its business model. Decades into its history, the company has realized that to best serve the technology market, it must rethink its methods of business.
From the enterprise to the consumer and from the cloud and back again, Microsoft is shifting from its long status as a software company of what one could call reasonable purity – Microsoft peripherals, and dalliances in the Xbox and Zune lines aside – to a company that has devices in its main line.
I think when you look forward, our core capability will be software, (but) you’ll probably think of us more as a devices-and-services company. Which is a little different. Software powers devices and software powers these cloud services, but it’s a different form of delivery[.]
Thus, Microsoft will continue to build software, but now has a firm eye on also constructing the conduits – be they digital or otherwise – that the software will be delivered through. As TNW noted at the time:
Yes, all technology is powered by software, but Microsoft wants to be in the business of delivering that software through services and devices. This extends its value proposition. Ballmer phrases that point simply: “Software powers devices and software powers these cloud services.”
Now, if all this is old news, why bring it up? A recent book landed on my shelf which helps to frame how large a shift Microsoft is currently undergoing [Note: Agate Publishing sent me a copy to read, the dears].
Dubbed Impatient Optimist, it’s a compendium of Bill Gates quotes, on a great number of topics, from across his history as a public figure. It’s not too long a read, but it certainly helped me better understand Microsoft’s progression over the years; you can feel the difference in a Gates quote from 1999, and 1994, for example.
That in mind, I stumbled across several quotes that do indeed bear repeating, as they help detail what Microsoft was. Each of the following quotes is from the book, and I’ve also included the original publishing location as well, for better sourcing.
On working with others:
[Microsoft's] success has really been based on partnerships from the very beginning. – The Road Ahead, 1995
On what Microsoft is meant to do:
Microsoft is designed to write great software. We are not designed to be good at other things. We only know how to hire, how to manage, and how to globalize software products. The key was to never view ourselves as a services company. We had to be a product company. But it was an approach that would probably not apply to any other business. – Forbes.com, 1997
Our business strategy from the beginning was quite different than all the other computer companies that existed when we were started. We decided to focus just on doing the high-volume software, not to build hardware systems, not to do chips, just to do software…. It was a strategy that required partners. – Keynote at San Jose State, 1998
On focus at Microsoft:
Well, hey, we can’t do everything – we don’t expect to do everything. [But] we do a lot and we have a longer time horizon than anyone else. – PC Magazine, 2008
I selected those quotes, and put them in chronological order for a reason: they illuminate Microsoft’s path.
As Gates notes, partnerships – he hits on WinTel elsewhere, of course – were core to Microsoft from its early days. All one has to do is recall the IBM affair, and it makes sense. The following passages, from two and three years later, outline what Microsoft is best at: writing code that anyone can use.
Interestingly, Gates directly shuns the idea of services and hardware, exactly where the company is currently steering as it moves into SaaS products – even turning Office into a cloud affair that you can subscribe to – and the Surface line of tablets that directly compete with the very OEM partners that helped to build Windows into the behemoth that it is today.
The last entry I picked was mostly due to its quite recent date. In 2008 Gates pointed out firmly Microsoft is a limited company, or is at least one as limited as any other firm may be; to do everything is, obviously, impossible. However, the second half of the quote is the more important bit: Microsoft thinks long.
This is a meme of sorts that any dedicated Microsoft watcher will run into now and again, the vaunted long-term thinking that supposedly pervades Redmond. To this it is hard to say much more than ‘perhaps.’
But if that is true, then we can learn from it. If Microsoft has decided, using its long foresight and planning, that devices and software as a service are where it needs to be, it’s no small bet. Microsoft is molting in front of our very eyes.
Will Microsoft always produce software? As long as it exists as a company, yes. However, the firm is now past the stage of being just that, and as Apple has managed to rekindle a world in which software and hardware sold together are the norm, Microsoft appears to be willing to fight that game as well as work its usual partner angle.
I bring all this up to dispel what I view to be a somewhat anemic response to the Ballmer interview; he is the company’s standard bearer, trusted Gates appointee, and long-time partner. He’s taking the company against the former, long-stated vision of its founder. That’s something that should make you sit up and blink.
You’re probably reading this article on a OS X devices, hell, I’m writing it on an Air, but the bulk of PCs sold in the coming years are going to run Windows 8. And, unlike in previous Windows release cycles, many of those devices are going to be built not by HP or Samsung or Dell, but by Microsoft.
Welcome to the new world.
Top Image Credit: Microsoft Sweden
Here is the original post: Microsoft’s rebirth: How Ballmer’s plan to rebuild the company is crossgrain to its past
Microsoft’s reluctance to discuss its Surface tablets has seen a variety of different price points mooted, ranging from a super cheap $199 to a staggering $999. While the pricing existed purely as rumor and speculation, Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer talked of what he calls the “sweet spot” for the Windows 8 tablets, finally providing an idea of what people can expect to pay.
In a interview with the Seattle Times, Ballmer discussed Microsoft’s “epic year,” touching on the company’s successes and failures, recruitment, stock prices, but also the iPad and Microsoft’s ability to compete in the software and mobile space.
When asked about the success of the iPad — whether a potential weakness in Apple’s strategy was its pricing — and if Microsoft would attempt to compete on cost and features, Ballmer noted that while pricing had not been announced it has a “very competitive product from the features perspective.”
However, Ballmer did touch on how the Surface tablets would be positioned against their competition:
If you look at the bulk of the PC market, it would run between, say, probably $300 to about $700 or $800. That’s the sweet spot.
Starting at around $300, reports of a $199 Windows RT Surface tablet have all been put to bed, thanks to Ballmer’s comments. However, nothing is set in stone.
Priced between $300 and a high-end $800, the Surface tablets would reach the same pricing bracket as the iPad. This is something that Ballmer sees a plus, evidenced in his comments on cheaper tablets and their use cases:
I think most people would tell you that the iPad is not a superexpensive device. … (When) people offer cheaper, they do less. They look less good, they’re chintzier, they’re cheaper.
If you say to somebody, would you use one of the 7-inch tablets, would somebody ever use a Kindle (Kindle Fire, $199) to do their homework? The answer is no; you never would. It’s just not a good enough product. It doesn’t mean you might not read a book on it.
Microsoft Surface general manager Panos Panay said at the launch event that the Windows RT model would have “comparable” pricing to other ARM tablets with 32GB and 64GB of storage.
Apple’s Retina-enabled iPad retails at a starting price of $499, but the Windows RT and Windows 8 Pro Surface models will offer different experiences in terms of tablet experiences and software, suggesting why Microsoft may need to use that $500 differential noted by Ballmer.
Ballmer still sees Microsoft as a software company, but moving forward he believes the public will think of it as a “devices-and-services company.”
“Software powers devices and software powers these cloud services, but it’s a different form of delivery,” the Microsoft chief adds. “[It] doesn’t mean we have to make every device. I don’t want you to leap to that conclusion. We’ll have partners who make devices with our software in it and our services built in. We’re going to be a leader at that.”
Image Credit: adamkinney